“Should I homeschool my child?” Debbie shares her own journey
Today I’m sharing a new type of episode for the TiLT Parenting Podcast—a “solocast”—which basically means that rather than have a guest on the show or talking with Asher, it will just be me sharing insights directly to you. From time to time I get questions from members of the TiLT Community who are curious about my personal journey with Asher and are interested in learning more about the strategies I’ve successfully used, and continue to use today. One question I get a lot is: Should I homeschool my child?
This episode is the first of several solocasts I’ll be doing focusing on homeschooling—not so much the nuts and bolts of it, although I will eventually share some strategies—but more the emotional side of what it was like to make the decision to homeschool. Because, as I’ve said in previous episodes, I was very much a ‘reluctant homeschooler.’ In this episode, I’m going to tell you exactly why that was, why I was so convinced that there was no way I could possibly homeschool Asher, and tell you how I got to a place where my thinking shifted and I was open to giving it a go.
About Debbie Reber
Debbie Reber, MA, is a parenting activist, New York Times bestselling author, podcast host, and speaker who moved her career in a more personal direction in 2016 when she founded TiLT Parenting, a top resource for parents like her who are raising differently wired children. The TiLT Parenting Podcast has grown to be a top podcast in Kids & Family, with more than 3 million downloads and a slate of guests that includes high-profile thought leaders across the parenting and education space. A certified Positive Discipline trainer and a regular contributor to Psychology Today and ADDitude Magazine, Debbie’s newest book is Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World. In November 2018, she spoke at TEDxAmsterdam, delivering a talk entitled Why the Future Will Be Differently Wired. In the summer of 2020, she co-created the Parenting in Place Masterclass series.
Prior to launching TiLT, Debbie spent more than fifteen years writing inspiring books for women and teens. In doing so, she built a successful brand as a teen authority, was frequently interviewed and spoke about issues like media literacy, self-esteem, and confidence, and consulted for clients including the Girl Scouts, the Disney Channel, McGraw Hill, and Kaplan. Since 1999, Debbie has authored many books, including Doable: The Girls’ Guide to Accomplishing Just About Anything, Language of Love, Chill: Stress-Reducing Techniques for a More Balanced, Peaceful You, In Their Shoes: Extraordinary Women Describe Their Amazing Careers, and more than a dozen preschool books based on the series Blue’s Clues. In 2008, she had the privilege of creating and editing the first-ever series of teen-authored memoirs, Louder Than Words.
Before embarking on her own path as a solopreneur, Debbie worked in TV and video production, producing documentaries and PSAs for CARE and UNICEF, working on Blue’s Clues for Nickelodeon in New York, and developing original series for Cartoon Network in Los Angeles. She has an MA in Media Studies from the New School for Social Research and a BA in Communications from Pennsylvania State University.
Things you’ll learn from this episode:
- Why Debbie was so against homeschooling in the first place
- What finally convinced her to give it a try
- What Debbie learned through the process of being a reluctant homeschooling mama
Resources mentioned for answering the question “Should I homeschool?”
Debbie Reber 00:00
I wanted to share all this with you because I think sometimes people look at what I’m doing with Asher and just assume that homeschooling him was a natural fit, or that part of me secretly wanted to do it or embrace the idea or that it’s somehow easier for me, but that they themselves just could never do what I’m doing. But I’m here to tell you that there is not one part of me, not even a fraction of a percent that wanted to homeschool Asher or believed that I could do it. Welcome to the Tilt Parenting podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids, a podcast Incidentally, that as of last week, hit 50,000 downloads. We’re so excited about reaching this milestone. So thank you so much for listening. I’m your host Debbie Reber and today I’m doing something a little different. This is going to be a solocast, which just means that I’m not going to be interviewing anyone. Rather, I’m going to be sharing directly with you. Just a short conversation between friends. From time to time, I get questions from members of the Tilt community who are curious to peek more into my personal journey with Asher and find out more about the strategies I’ve used successfully and continue to use. Today is going to be the first of several solocast focusing on homeschooling, not so much the nuts and bolts of it, although I will share some strategies, but more of the emotional side of what it was like to make the decision to homeschool. Because as I’ve said in the past, I was very much what I would describe as a reluctant homeschooler. So that’s really what I’ll be talking about in today’s episode. Moving forward, I’ll be doing solocasts like this from time to time. And if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you know that I’m pretty much have an open book. I’m happy to share really anything if it’s going to help others feel less alone in what they’re experiencing. So if you have questions or topics you’d like me to talk about in one of these features solo cast, please fill out my podcast suggestion form and let me know you can find that forum at tilt parenting calm slash podcast. And a quick note, we’ve recently launched a Patreon campaign so listeners who want to support what we’re doing on the podcast can do so. If you’re not familiar, Patreon is a tool designed to allow people to support the work of artists, musicians, and yes, even podcasters. My goal in starting a Patreon campaign is to hire someone to help me with the editing of the podcast. If you’d like to support us, please visit patreon.com/tiltparenting, it’s super easy to help out and even $2 a month makes a difference since it all adds up. Thanks for considering and for being a part of our community. And now I’ll get on with the show.
Debbie Reber 02:53
Okay, so as I said in the introduction, today, I wanted to share some of our homeschooling journey, specifically the beginning of our journey because I think that’s where so many people get stuck, they get stuck in this thinking that I could never homeschool or I would go crazy or I would be a terrible teacher, I’m just not cut out for it or I don’t have enough patience. The list really goes on and on. And perhaps some of these sound familiar to you. Oh, and before I get into this, I want to just acknowledge a few things. One is that because of financial obligations or family structure or living situation, or even maybe because the law of the country in which you live says that homeschooling isn’t legal, I know homeschooling just isn’t a viable option or even a possibility for some families. I totally get that. And I want to be very careful to not make it seem as if it’s something everyone could do if they really wanted to. I know that’s not true. I also don’t think it’s something everyone should do. So I just want to say that upfront. So this episode is not to convince anyone to homeschool. It is a very personal decision to homeschool and it’s obviously a huge choice to make. It’s a decision that will change pretty much every aspect of family life. But I also know that we have many listeners who have begun homeschooling because they felt like they have no choice. And in some cases, they literally did have no choice. We also have many listeners who have this nagging feeling that they know homeschooling would be best for their child, but they just don’t believe they’re capable of doing it. So I’m hoping that these listeners benefit from what I’m sharing today. And even if you aren’t in any of these situations, and you’ve got a great school setup or good enough school setup, and homeschooling isn’t even on your radar, my hope is that you’ll still get something from what I share because at the end of the day, all of this work of parenting differently wired kids is really about questioning systems that aren’t working for our children letting go of the idea that our parenting dreams He is going to look, you know, this very specific way we envisioned and figuring out what we need to do to help our kids thrive. Okay, so back to the reasons I hear from people about why they can’t homeschool, the idea that it’s just too hard or they’re not patient enough or they’re not cut out for it. I just want to fess up right away and say that I was absolutely one of those people. And for many years, I was determined to search tirelessly to find the right fit school wise, it was all about fit, where’s the fit, there has to be a fit. We went through three preschools and three elementary schools in seven years and had to pull him out of two of those schools. And he was gently let go from another and couple that with all of the emails and the notes and the phone calls and the meetings, I mean, seriously, I knew I was well aware that it was not working out well, but I just kept looking for the fit. That’s why when my friend Alison Bauer invited me over for tea and sat me on her couch to talk school strategy after our rough first grade fall semester, I was unable to even consider the possibility of homeschooling when she suggested it, even though she was an educator who knew Asher well. She understood his learning style, and I knew that she loved me dearly. I was not having any of it, period. By the way, one of my first podcast episodes is an interview with Alison about school fit or, in our case, the lack of a school fit, which you can check out at tilt parenting comm slash session two. But why wasn’t I having any of it? Why was I so resistant to the idea of homeschooling? Well, a couple of things. First work. I love my work. I’ve been self employed now as a writer, consultant, and more recently as a life and writing code since 2003, was a year before Asher even came into the world. Before that I was working in kids television work I also loved but I really loved being my own boss. At the time this conversation happened with Allison, I think it was 2011. I had spent the past seven years building up her career writing empowering books for teen girls, writing articles for teen girl magazines and consulting for organizations like the Girl Scouts National Office. When I started publishing my books, I also began speaking at girls conferences and at fundraising luncheons about girls issues. So for years, I had been putting all this effort into building up my brand as a teen girl expert. And I’d finally kind of arrived in that space I wanted to be in, in fact, that year 2011, I was included in an article in Fast Company magazine about inspiring change makers surrounding my work with teen girls. I was someone who, when I said I had to work on weekends, and my friends would say, Oh, that’s too bad. I say no, it’s great. I love my work. On top of all that, at the time that conversation over tea with Alison happened, I was also in the midst of building up my fledgling coaching practice, I had finished an intensive training program and spent the past year developing programs and working on creating a business that I plan to help supplement my income in between writing books and things were starting to pick up. And the thought of setting all of that aside, basically losing momentum and all those areas possibly for good, so I could homeschool Asher was not part of my plan. And I am a bit of a control freak, so I always have a plan. So that was one huge reason why I was so resistant. The next reason I was so resistant to homeschooling, Asher was plain old fear and overwhelming fear because it was unknown and not part of my plan. Fear because it seemed incredibly risky to go down that road when there was already a system and structure in place that most everyone I knew was going through. Of course, we all want our kids to be seen as unique. But I also desperately wanted Asher to fall into place and be the round peg in the round hole, doing our own thing felt big and scary. And then there was the whole fact of where to start, I didn’t know where to begin, I didn’t have time to figure out an entire new system of education for Asher or come up with a plan and organize everything on my own and on and on and on. It made my head spin just to think about it. But it was perhaps the last reason more than anything that resulted in my saying no way and not going to happen the first time that Alison suggested that I homeschool Asher. And that reason is quite simple. My Saturday. It goes without saying that I absolutely love and adore my child. And it also goes without saying especially to the awesome audience that listens to this podcast that many differently wired children can be incredibly intense little human beings energetically it can be exhausting. Like many of you, I know you feel this way too, I often felt like I was walking on eggshells, never knowing when the next explosion would happen, how big it would be, how long it would last. If I labeled the periods of our journey with Asher, I would have to say that many, many months out of those early elementary school years would have to be called the Dark Ages, day to day life was exhausting and so hard on so many levels. Honestly, I was so grateful for school, and for the fact that he had some art to be where I knew he was safe. And where he could just be somebody else’s responsibility for a while, just a couple hours, and where Frankly, I could get a break and have some quiet, alone time to regroup and to work and just kind of push the reset button. Does any of this sound familiar to you? I wanted to share all this with you because I think sometimes people look at what I’m doing with Asher and just assume that homeschooling him was a natural fit, or that part of me secretly wanted to do it or embrace the idea, or that it’s somehow easier for me, but that they themselves just could never do what I’m doing. But I’m here to tell you that there is not one part of me, not even a fraction of a percent, that wanted to homeschool Asher or believed that I could do it. Now, at the same time, if I were to be honest, in my deepest heart of hearts, I also knew inherently that Allison was right, I knew that homeschooling probably would have been the best option for him. And in an alternate universe where I had all the time and resources in the world, including an infinite amount of patience, and where I didn’t have a career or a job that I needed both for our income. And for my personal well being. Well, yeah, that would have been a different story. But it wasn’t an alternate universe. And I just did not want it to be. So for all of these reasons, I wasn’t just resistant to the idea of homeschooling, I was 100% completely and utterly shut down to it, it was not going to happen period. So flash forward a year and a half later, after that initial conversation with Allison. It was the spring of 2013. And we just found out my husband, Derin, had an opportunity to take a position with his company in the Netherlands. And we were pretty sure we were going to take it. So I called Alison again and asked her if I could talk about school strategy with her. I had a list of international schools in Amsterdam, and I had all my ducks in a row. And I took her to lunch. It was sushi, actually my favorite spot in Seattle. And when the lunch was over, I called Derin and I told him I was going to be homeschooling Asher in the Netherlands, it was time. Over the course of that lunch, she convinced me and I realized I was ready, and even more so that this was what he needed.
Debbie Reber 12:57
So what got me to that point? What had changed? Well, there are a lot of different reasons and a lot of things that had shifted my thinking. So I wanted to share those with you too, because some of those reasons are where the learning was for me, and there might be some useful insight in there for you too. First was school fit once again, we’d been in another school for a second grade, and it had been an okay fit, meaning he hadn’t been kicked out. And the school administration seemed to appreciate Asher even at the same time as he was challenging them. Incredibly, he had an individualized education plan or an IEP. And we were in the process of meeting about making the new plan for the following year. But when I thought about it, you know, it really hadn’t been a great fit. I knew that Asher did not like school, he was checked out most of the time, bored, was perpetually anxious. He really struggled with being in a big classroom in a public school. You know, there were 28 kids in his class after having been in smaller classes and private schools for kindergarten and first grade, he honestly seemed to be in a constant state of dysregulation. And just when we’d see little improvements in one area, he would regress and another. If we had stayed in Seattle, we would have most likely kept him in that school. And he’d still be there today. But I don’t believe his intellectual needs or his learning style or his way of approaching life would be adequately supported or appreciated. And as a result, I knew he was going to continue being that square peg. So I had to ask myself, is this actually working? Is school working? I knew that the demands of school we’re just going to get more intense with each year and so things might get much worse before they got better. How many more schools were we going to have to try out and have it not worked out before we realized it was time to try something radically different? And what message was Asher internalizing with each School move, I could already tell that he was starting to lose his love of learning and hating school and believing it was all a waste of time and believing that he was always doing things wrong, you know, really internalizing this idea that he was the bad kid. And it was really hard to watch that happen. The second thing that changed was, I was substantially more exhausted when this second conversation over sushi happened with Alison, I don’t mean that I didn’t sleep well the night before. I mean that I had spent another year and a half spinning my wheels and running around like a mad woman trying to keep our life on track, trying to keep Asher moving forward and the schools informed and keeping everyone in the loop. You know that daily stress of wondering if he’d had a good day or a bad day because those really were the only two options. All of this was taking a tremendous toll on my emotional and mental well being. I dreaded school pickups. I dreaded hearing the phone ring in the middle of the day or seeing an email pop up in my inbox with an email address ending in seattleschools.org. I was so tired of trying to come up with strategies to help Asher’s teachers manage him in the classroom, when I really needed someone to give me strategies to help me at home, I was burned out. And I was starting to realize that something had to give, of course, the fact that we were selling our house and moving abroad was going to be hugely disruptive to our life. And so I think another thing that changed for me was that my fixed mindset had been jolted from its foundation, I realized that I was so stuck in my thinking that I wasn’t allowing any alternative options to be heard. You know, when we’re just living our lives and doing our thing, maybe we or our partner have a really good job, or maybe we have a mortgage on our house were responsible for, maybe we’ve lived in the same city or state our whole lives. Or maybe we’re doing the same things our friends are doing, or we’re raising our children, the way our parents raised us, when we’re just going on and doing our thing. Our thinking supports our present reality, you know, we can’t do X because of Y. We can’t change schools because it’s too far away.
Debbie Reber 17:12
I mean, even if we take our kids out of the equation, we do this all the time, you know, I can’t quit my job, because I have a mortgage to pay. But when we’re in this place, it’s easy to forget that actually, everything we do is in some way, a choice. A choice to stay in a house with a mortgage, we could sell the house and move into an apartment or you know, choice to stay in one city because you know, that is the only thing we’ve ever known. These are choices. I was doing this to, you know, we can’t move to another city because we like our house, we can explore that school because the commute would be too long. I can’t homeschool because it doesn’t fit into my lifestyle. But when Derin said yes to that job, and we decided to put the house on the market, suddenly all of my musts and have-tos, those things I felt I had no choice about, were suddenly wide open. And we were starting from scratch. And because of that, I think it allowed me to open up my mind to homeschooling something that I obviously was unable to do before that. So does this mean that a family needs to completely disrupt everything they know in their lives if they want to feel empowered to make the break to homeschooling? Definitely not. But I do think it’s critical to start questioning all of those that have to use all those things that seem like absolutes, and done deals and start asking the question, What am I choosing right now, and what other choices might work better for our family. So what else factored into my shift of going from 100% opposed to homeschooling to agreeing to give it a go. I talked to my people, the close friends and family in my life who loved Asher, loved Aaron and me, and who I trusted To be honest, and tell me what they really thought. These people were all fully behind our decision. Without exception. They felt that Asher would be happier if he could learn on his own terms and in his own way, and perhaps even more important to me, they believed that I could do it. This is a really important thing to have people in your corner, because it was their belief in my ability to pull it off. that kept me going in that first incredibly difficult year. I mean, the importance of people who have your back and care about your family can’t be emphasized enough. This kind of support for families raising differently. Wired kids is crucial, especially if you decide to go off roading and homeschool Asher’s therapist gave me their blessing as well, which was actually huge. In fact, when we were just coming to the decision to definitely move I spoke with Asher’s awesome therapist Dr. John and told him about our plan, fully prepared to ditch it and call the whole thing off a pizza, our choice was going to have any negative implications for Asher. So I was surprised when he gave me his full blessing telling me that he thought homeschooling Asher was the best thing we could possibly do for him. Okay, good to know. And actually, it seems like everyone around us, friends, family therapists, they were actually relieved for us and with us. It was like they’d been patiently waiting for us to come to what they saw as an obvious conclusion after so many school fails, I appreciate that they didn’t force the issue with us and waited for us to reach the conclusion on our own. But it was surprising actually how enthusiastically nearly everyone in our immediate support circle was for our decision. So that was that the decision had been made. Our house was sold. We were moving to the Netherlands and I was going to be Asher’s teacher. And we lived happily ever after. Just getting the move was really challenging. And the transition to homeschooling was really Rocky, as I’ve talked about on this podcast before, and I write about in the tilt Manifesto, that first year was one of the more challenging years of my life. I’m not going to go into all of that today.
Debbie Reber 21:17
In another episode, I’m going to share with you what that adjustment to homeschooling was like as well as share with you the strategies I use to help both me and Asher adjust. But what I did want to end with today is just a validation for you. If you’re in this situation, if you’re feeling at wit’s end with trying to find the school fit, or you’re contemplating homeschooling your child, but you don’t think you’re capable. Or maybe you’re homeschooling and it’s been a very challenging time for you just want to say that you’re not alone. Everything that I described, the fear, the overwhelm, the sadness, the frustration, is absolutely and completely normal. feeling like you’re not capable of homeschooling, is normal. Believing that you’re not patient enough, is normal, thinking it’s just not possible for you because you value your sanity is normal. I totally get it. It’s a wonderful path. And it’s a difficult path. But before I go, I do want to leave you with a few things that I learned going through the transition from regular school, to homeschooling, and all the changes that went along with it. One is that it’s worth questioning your deeply held beliefs about the way things should be. The idea of change and the fear that goes along with it usually ends up being much worse than the change itself. Three is that when you have people in your world who love you and your family are trustworthy, and regularly share thoughtful insights with you and have your best interests at heart. Let them support and guide you as you consider what’s in your child’s best interest. Sometimes that outside perspective can paint a much clearer and simpler picture than the one that is all tied up in our own emotional experience. And lastly, for that, and I’m going to come back to this idea time and time again in this podcast because it’s important. You are so much more capable than you believe you are. You are the perfect parent to raise your differently wired child. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you found value in this solocast. You’ve been listening to the Tilt Parenting Podcast. For the show notes for this episode including links to the resources I mentioned, visit the show notes page at tiltparenting.com/session42. If you’re not already signed up for our newsletter, I would love for you to join our Tilt Parenting online community. I send out short weekly updates with links to new content on the tilt website, articles and resources just for you. And lastly, here’s my weekly pitch to ask you to leave an honest review or rating for the tail podcast on iTunes. It only takes a minute. It’s pain free, and it really helps us get more visibility in the crowded podcast space. Thanks again for listening. For more information visit www.tiltparenting.com
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