Over the last decade, there has been an exponential rise in homeschooling across the United States. What is driving parents to make this choice, and some to even leave their careers to do so?
I had a chance to speak to two faith-centered moms—one from the corporate sector and the other a physician—who embarked on the journey of homeschooling their children. The critical challenges they faced and the wise choices they made give us significant insights into what this promising path holds for our next generation.
Your Child’s Heart Matters
For Bridget Crowley, a mother of two and CEO of a large commercial real estate management company, making the leap into homeschooling was a decision that was not easy to make.
Crowley’s two sons, Phelim and Shamus, had been raised in private schools, and she and her husband felt they were doing well. She says she was surprised when her oldest son at 12 years old said, “Mom, I think that you’re supposed to homeschool me.” Reflecting on her response, she says she simply believed that “it is not at all my wiring or my gifting.”
“So, for many years, I told my son all the reasons why I couldn’t and I truly believed I could not,” says Crowley, 46, from Greenville, South Carolina. That is, until years later, when she became concerned about her oldest child’s social and emotional well-being.
“He experienced some things in school that led us to realize, ‘Is there anything more important than your child’s heart, and your child’s mental well-being, physical well-being, and who they are in Christ?’”
Crowley says that children end up speaking into your child’s life. And her son was becoming “what the hallway smack talk was telling him he was.” “He was losing his faith and he was losing hope in life in general and not becoming who he was meant to be,” she reflected.
“As his mom, I felt hopeless. I felt that I couldn’t homeschool, like it wasn’t an option. I felt increasingly helpless in watching my son become the antithesis of who he was as a child, and who I knew he was in the Lord.”
Supportive friends came alongside Crowley and helped her to challenge her negative notions about homeschooling, boosting her confidence in her own ability to educate her son at home. They said, “Nobody feels like they can do it. The world tells you every day that you can’t do it, that it’s not normal, that you’re weird, that your kid can’t socialize, and that your kid can’t play sports.”
Crowley now refers to those statements about homeschooling that she’d believed for years as “lies.” She describes herself as feeling trepidation when finally listening to her friends and making the decision to bring her son home.
“I believed by faith and not by sight that if this was His [God’s] will, He would equip me, and He did,” she says.
Crowley decided to shift her schedule so that she could continue to work but also teach her children during the day. She found comradery in a growing community of parents who felt similarly, joining a co-op called Classical Conversations, which is one of many national co-op organizations. Her local branch of this co-op gave her children the balance of strong academics and healthy socialization.
Her children now enjoy Latin, history, and the arts, and have an opportunity to make friends and learn in a setting wherein they feel comfortable being themselves and knowing that their families are all engaged with one another.
For her oldest, homeschooling was so impactful on his overall emotional well-being that Crowley says she will never look back and regret her decision to homeschool. In fact, she says it was one of the best choices she ever made. Speaking of how they feel now compared to when they were in conventional school, she says, “Their anxieties went down. There is peace in our house. They are very secure in who they are. Their faith has grown. Our faith as a family has grown.”
Nothing Is Too Hard
Many parents who decide to homeschool often do so for social and emotional reasons, and others do so to help accommodate the learning needs that their children have. Dr. Lacey Kaiser, 55, of Memphis, Tennessee, an internist who spent years doing critical care in the ICU, left her career and began homeschooling her children in 2003. Herself a mom of four, Kaiser is now a parent tutor in the organization where Crowley’s children attend.
Referring to when she was working in the ICU, Kaiser said, “I knew I needed more time at home. I knew I needed a different schedule so I could also be a mom.”
Her children were in a private school and in the fifth and sixth grades at the time. “As I watched them at school, I just did not feel that their education was measuring up to what they were capable of. I could just see down the road that they were going to need more than what they were getting,” she added.
It didn’t take Kaiser long, once her girls were home, to learn that one of her daughters was having some difficulties that had gone unnoticed in her former large classroom. Kaiser made a decision to modify how she taught her; she found that adjusting the curriculum to meet her child’s needs led to her flourishing academically and feeling successful and confident in a way that she never had before.
Referencing helping her children with their individual needs, she says: “That process of us struggling together … I think it stays with them forever because they discover they can do anything if they break it down into the smallest steps, that there is nothing that is too hard.
“You can’t do that kind of a process with a whole classroom of kids because every child is in a little different place.”
Today, Kaiser supports other parents who are thinking of homeschooling as well as those who have already made the leap. She provides encouragement and guidance for them along the way.
Having Faith and Finding Rhythm
Faith has been a significant topic of focus for Crowley and Kaiser. Both believe that their children are benefiting from learning more about God, and are gaining a deeper understanding of their purpose and who they are, as a result. “What was happening at school was not preparing them to be a Christian in our world,” Kaiser said.
For Crowley, she feels she has been able to “speak truth” into her children, instead of having the world “speak lies” into their lives. Asked more about this, she referenced the amount of bullying and negative talk that was occurring amongst peers at school, and how homeschooling allowed her to help her children learn that others don’t define them.
Today, Crowley stresses that she wants them to place their faith in God, and to internalize that they are loved by God and by their family.
For both women, the comfort of home and the time spent teaching their children has led to a deepening of their family relationships. Kaiser recalls how her children have come to her over the years to talk about things that are happening in their lives, and to process issues of substance. This, she says, is due to an investment of time.
Smiling, Kaiser shares about a lady who mentored her early on, who told her, “You have issues to work out.” Having a laugh over this today, she says, “I thought, ‘We do not have issues!’ but then when I brought my kids home from school, we did have issues. We just didn’t even know it yet!
“We needed a new rhythm for our lives because we were going to be together all day every day. It was really an eye-opening time to see myself differently and to know my children more deeply, and to learn how to get along with them and be their mother on a really intimate level. I learned to love being with my children. We still have conflict, but it’s fine because we all know how to work it out. We’ve learned how to be a better part of a family.”
This closeness and relationship growth for Kaiser and Crowley has also been born out of nonconventional schooling experiences. While other children are sitting at their desks in schools, they take their children on trips across the country and even across the world to learn.
Kaiser, embracing the opportunity to reflect on her favorite experiences, recalls a couple of her most memorable trips with her children: a trip to Alaska, another to Asia, missions trips abroad, and a trip to see a Viking ship north of Nova Scotia. She reminisces on good books they’ve shared and characters that have come to life for them.
Crowley has taken her children to Ireland, and talks about the perks of being able to take learning on the road, to be able to have the freedom to not confine the children’s learning to specific hours during the day, and giving them the flexibility to also learn in other settings.
Homeschooling Is Self-Cultivation
One might assume from watching Crowley and Kaiser with their children that homeschooling was always easy and that transitioning from full-time careers into educating children at home was seamless. Kaiser was not shy to share that it wasn’t that way when she brought her girls home.
“The first year was a little bit rough but it got better and better,” Kaiser said. “The schooling part was not so hard. It was really something in me that was struggling to realize where my children really were, and what they needed. Once I sort of got over that initial shock of homeschooling, I just began to love it because I just met them where they were and we just started where they needed to be, and worked from there. They just started flourishing in all kinds of ways … with their attitudes and their relationships with other people and their eagerness to learn.”
Both women talked about the importance of being patient, not just with their children, but with themselves. Kaiser pointed out that, as a parent who homeschools, “You learn how to deal with your selfishness, your own impatience, your own anger, and your own irritability. It brings all that out and you learn how to deal with those things for yourself and you learn how to deal with other people and love them because you’re with them all the time.”
That necessary grace for oneself was something Crowley also attested to, stating she also found herself sometimes feeling she was sacrificing some things that she really enjoys, like tennis or time with her friends.
“I’m juggling a lot of balls but it is in general much more peaceful in our home,” Crowley said. “I cannot believe how adamantly I was against it, and how ‘pro’ I am for it right now. It’s unbelievable, and I know for sure that the human beings they’re going to be in this world are so much better than who they would’ve been running around the halls, getting scared, and having all of these walls built up. When they go out into society, I will feel really good about who they are.”
When asked what their advice would be to parents who are thinking of homeschooling but who are reluctant, Crowley said, “If you’re seeing things that you know are not right, that are diminishing who your child is, their lack of confidence, or if they’re carrying around all the things of the world, pull the plug—just pull it.”
Kaiser offers some helpful tips to ease the initial transition for parents who are unsure of the next steps: “When you begin to homeschool, you need to plan a lot of fun things to do to make homeschooling fun. Be sure you have other friends to be with and have plenty of activities to do, and then you can start increasing the amount of academic time you have. There will be plenty of time for that once you have learned how to live together.
“Think about what it is they want most for their children and start in that place. If what they need is for their child to have some fun, happy experiences, I think that is a good place to start. If they really want their child to be good at math, then they just need to start there. Pick some good books to read aloud and talk about some good stories just to begin in a place where it is a joy and not a chore, and all the pieces will fall into place as you begin to enjoy learning together.”
Both women expressed that they would tell parents, “You will never ever regret doing this.”