Debbie Reber Talks About Her Transition to Homeschool
Today is another special solocast episode of the TiLT Parenting Podcast—which basically means that rather than have a guest on the show or talking with Asher, it will just be me sharing insights directly with 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.
This episode is the second of several solocasts I’ll be doing focusing on homeschooling. The first episode focused on how we came to the decision to homeschool, because I was very much a reluctant homeschooler. For today’s episode, I’m focusing on the actual transition to homeschool and that very first year—essentially, how I got through it. Because it was not an easy transition, and there were many times when I wanted to throw in the towel. I’ll talk with you about what the biggest challenges were for me and Asher and share with you the strategies I used to push through the really hard stuff and get us to a much better place by the end of that first year.
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:
- How Debbie relied tapped into parenting and curricular support
- The importance of a “detox” period for a child to successfully transition to homeschool
- The power of field trips and community
- How shifting expectations, letting go, and leaning in changed everything
Resources mentioned about the transition to homeschool
- An Intimate Conversation with Debbie About Making the Choice to Homeschool Asher (Part 1 in this podcast series)
- When School Isn’t a Fit: What To Expect and How to Handle It (podcast conversation with Alison Bower)
- Margaret Webb Life Coaching (parent coach)
- Finding Peace in Parenting the Child You Didn’t Expect When You Were Expecting (podcast conversation with Margaret Webb)
- How Parents Can Survive and Thrive Over the Summer Break (podcast conversation with Margaret Webb)
- What to Do When Close or Extended Family Just Doesn’t Get It (podcast conversation with Margaret Webb)
Debbie Reber 00:00
But in that first year, the simplest act of taking a deep breath and reminding myself that it was going to be okay, and that Asher was going to be okay and that the world wasn’t going to end if we didn’t get our math done or if we started school An hour later than we planned. That made a huge difference. It would get me through the day. And that’s really what you have to do when homeschooling a differently wired child. You have to take it day by day.
Debbie Reber 00:29
Welcome to the Tilt Parenting podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host of the podcast Debbie Reber and today I’m doing another solocast episode, which just means that I’m not going to be interviewing anyone. Rather, I’m going to be sharing directly with you. This is the second in a series of solocast I’ll be doing specifically centered around the topic of homeschooling. The first Episode, Episode 42 centered around how we came to the decision that I would homeschool Asher. If you missed that you can find it at tiltparenting.com/session42. Today I’m going to talk about that first year, specifically how I survived it. I’ll talk through what the biggest challenges were for me and Asher, and share with you the strategies I used to push through the really hard stuff and get us to a much better place by the end of that first year. And before we get started, I wanted to give a shout out to some of our awesome listeners and supporters, Jen Filberts, Barbara Besson, and Alice Wilder, all new supporters of the podcast through our Patreon campaign. Thank you so much for your help. Because of your support, and other contributors to the campaign, I’ve just been able to hire someone to help me with some podcast production tasks, which is amazing, and so appreciate it. Not to mention, it’s going to make my life a lot easier. My goal is to ultimately outsource the most time consuming aspects of the podcast production and I’m getting pretty close to being able to do that. So if you’re a regular listener, and you get value out of our podcast, even a very small contribution, a few dollars a month can make a big difference to us. If you’re interested in contributing, just visit patreon.com/tiltparenting for more information. Thank you so much for considering and for being a part of our audience. And now I’ll get on with the show.
Debbie Reber 02:28
Okay, so as I said in the introduction, while my first solo cast about homeschooling focused on the decision making process and why I was such a reluctant homeschooler. In this conversation, I wanted to share some of that first year of our journey. Because homeschooling a neurotypical child is hard enough, but homeschooling a differently wired child is like doing it on steroids, it doesn’t matter if it’s something that was thrust upon you. Or if you consciously made the choice to homeschool your child and it’s something you even feel really good and excited about doesn’t matter, the transition can be difficult and overwhelming. Part of what I’m wanting to do through this particular series of podcasts is demystify the homeschooling journey and just present an honest portrayal of what it looks like. And perhaps even more important for us what it feels like, at the end of my last podcast about this again, that’s Episode 42. If you want to go back and listen to it, we were just about to move to the Netherlands because after three years and three schools and those not really working out so well back in Seattle, my husband and I decided to try something completely different as part of our move abroad. I should say upfront that those first few weeks were flat out horrible, there’s really no other way to describe it. Because if I thought Asher was angry about injustices or slides at his old school, that was nothing compared to the anger of a little boy who just turned nine years old, who was absolutely furious with his parents for forcing him to move to another country without even consulting him. But he did have a lot of grievances and things that made him angry beyond his general anger about the move, things that I think he would have felt, regardless of where we were homeschooling. He missed his friends, and he was worried he’d never make new ones. That was a biggie. He resented anything that got in the way of his coveted screen time, which at that time, was all about Minecraft all the time. And of course, move related. He missed his house. He also missed our dog who had died right before we moved here. And yeah, he was also really turned off by the Dutch language.
Debbie Reber 04:38
So he had a lot of things he was upset about. And he basically took all his anger out on me, which totally makes sense, right? Because I was the one who was spending all day with him. And I was trying to get him to focus on school subjects and learn something and I was placing demands on him, and he really doesn’t like it when people place demands on him. And obviously, I was dealing with my own stuff too, so as I talked about in my last homeschooling solocast, I was trying to really wrap my head around the fact that suddenly I had a lot less time to work on my work and my writing projects. So I felt like I was making a big sacrifice. And I was upset that Asher couldn’t appreciate that. So even as I say that I have to just laugh because what differently wired nine year old, and what nine year old period is going to notice and appreciate when their parent is doing something for them, especially when they are so unhappy and grappling with huge emotions of their own. So yes, I know, it’s completely ridiculous, but I still felt it. So and I think it’s probably normal that I did. I also felt like Asher wasn’t appreciating all the work I was putting into trying to come up with super cool school projects that would engage and excite him. I mean, we were doing awesome subjects. They weren’t boring, and I gave him tons of leeway and flexibility. I mean, part of our school day involved going to the cafe on the corner and eating chocolate croissants, again, that I thought my nine year old should appreciate the curriculum I was trying to guide him through sounds delusional in retrospect, but there you go, that’s how I felt I’m just keeping it real. Then there was the fact that I was doing some serious grieving of my own. So I was grieving the loss of my dog Baxter. I was grieving the life I left behind, and I was grieving the way I thought our journey was going to look. On top of all of that, I was having to figure out how to handle Asher’s anger and rage. So I felt like I was being literally beat up every day. And I could not wait for Derin to get home from work. So I could go for a walk or run or on a really bad day hold myself up in the bedroom with a glass of wine and Netflix.
Debbie Reber 06:51
But really, those first few months were so hard because I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. I felt trapped and beyond overwhelmed. And Derin was working a lot. I had no friends. I didn’t speak the language. My kid was furious with me. So yeah, it was not so great. So how did I get through that first year? Well, that’s what I want to share with you today. Because it wasn’t any one thing that made the difference. There were some things that involved Asher, and some things involving me. And again, these are all things I think will apply to your homeschooling situation, no matter where you’re living. They’re not necessarily specific to the fact that we were living abroad. So let’s get into it. First, there was curriculum support. So my friend Alison Bower, who’s also an educator and a coach, I talked about her in part one of this homeschooling podcast. She’s the one who helped me see we needed to homeschool in the first place. And I’ve also had her on the podcast in the very beginning talking about what to do when school isn’t a fit. So she agreed to be my curriculum guru for the first year we were here. And I really relied on her to help me figure out a plan for what astron needed to be learning, you know, what kind of projects would interest him, and that kind of thing. She actually used to make video recordings for Asher, where she would be presenting lessons to him or just talking with him about the expectations of our school and what he was doing. And because she was the assistant head of one of his former schools, he totally respected her as an authority. So we kind of set it up like she was the principal of our homeschool, and I was the teacher. And the reason I think this worked for that year was that Asher and I were figuring out our dynamic of teacher, student and mother son. And it was pretty jumbled up at the time. So having Allison be able to step in from this position of Education Authority, when Asher was really being uncooperative, and have her be the heavy, have her talk with him about expectations that really helped. And even though she was at the time, 1000 miles away from me, I really felt like I had a partner and I wasn’t alone in what I was doing. And that was huge for me. I do not think I would have made it through without that support. The second thing I did was work with a parent coach. If you’ve been a regular listener to the podcast, you’ve heard me talk about Margaret Webb, who is a fantastic coach who runs a class called Parenting the Child You Didn’t Expect When You’re Expecting and I knew that even more than curricular help I needed help with my personal sanity and well being. So I worked with Margaret to help me learn how to take care of myself and my needs, as well as how to specifically handle the really really hard stuff like Asher meltdowns or times when Darren was traveling and I had zero reinforcements. Working with Margaret helped me in so so many ways. More than anything. She helped me learn how to find some peace during a time that felt completely chaotic and charged. Again, I don’t know that I would have made it through That first year without Margaret, and as an FYI, I’ve also had Margaret on the show three times. So I will include links in the show notes to the episodes with Margaret. She is a brilliant parent coach and she’s still someone I turned to for her wisdom in terms of helping parents raising differently wired kids. It’s pretty amazing. The next thing I would say that helped me immensely was I shifted my expectations. Big time, I really had to come to grips with the way I thought school was going to look because as I quickly learned, it was not going to look that way period, Alison used to remind me that we weren’t trying to recreate regular school at home because regular school wasn’t actually working for Asher. And she used to remind me that in traditional school, there’s a lot of time spent doing things other than learning. And so in homeschool, we can actually do a day’s worth of schoolwork and just a few hours. She also kept reminding me that the way traditional schools do things isn’t necessarily good for any child, let alone a child like Asher. So I really needed to let go of the ideas in my head about trying to do things the same way. And instead figure out how to enjoy the freedom and flexibility we had to engage in learning in a way that tapped into Asher’s strengths. So all of this made sense to me. And it continues to make sense to me. But I will say this is an ongoing process for me this constant battle between expectations about what things should look like using air quotes there, and what they do look like, because honestly, I still find myself butting up against these ideas I have about the way things quote unquote, should be in our school, but aren’t. And I still have all the emotional baggage that comes along with that kind of thinking. And that kind of leads into my next strategy, which I think is really important for people who’ve just made the switch to homeschooling or considering doing it in the future. And that is to have a transitional detox period. I know that for many of us, we’re homeschooling our kids, because school didn’t work in some big way, and often a way that negatively impacted our children. I know in our case, after three rough years in school, Asher had pretty severe anxiety, which I didn’t really realize, because the anger and dysregulation stood out to me more. But once his therapist pointed out to me, suddenly it became very clear that that was what was going on for him. I’m in for so many of these kids, when they’re in a traditional school where things aren’t working, or maybe they’re getting in trouble all the time. Or maybe they’re getting made fun of or maybe they’re struggling with the academics or the social pressures. They’re basically walking around like little balls of stress in a perpetual state of fight or flight, which you know, that is just so sad to think about to constantly be feeling that low level of stress and anxiety. So having a transition period where our kids can really let go of that anxiety and relax and just kind of reset their systems is really important. I think how long that detox period should be depends on the child and how bad things were in school, and for how long it was bad. You know, a lot of kids bounce back very quickly as soon as they’re out of that environment.
Debbie Reber 13:26
Oh, and what do I mean by detox? I’m talking about letting our kids have some serious bedtime. So if that looks like living in the world of Minecraft for a few weeks, then so be it. Or if that means sleeping in and staying in PJs and doing much of nothing for a while. That’s okay. It’s really about letting them recover and get back to a place where they feel safe and secure and hopefully stop being in defensive mode. Because we had just done a big move before homeschooling. And before that he’d spent most weeks of that summer in various camps. We definitely did a detox for our first few weeks in Amsterdam, which, for us, involved a lot of iPad, a lot of ice cream, I think he had ice cream every day for two months. A lot of trips to playgrounds and lots of pajama wearing. So moving on to another one of my favorite strategies I use that first year was field trips. Field trips can be a homeschooling parents best friend because if you like to learn like I do, and you’d like to get out of the house and see new things like I do, then homeschool field trips can be a great thing to weave into the routine and buy field trips. I’m talking about everything from going to museums, or zoos or things like that, to just going for a hike in nature or going to a park or maybe just exploring a new neighborhood. Because what I’ve learned over the years is that kids are mostly interested in curious even, if they’re close minded about going somewhere in the first place. If you find a way to connect what you’re doing with an area of their interest, they’ll be sparked, they won’t be able to help it, and then absolutely every field trip can provide multiple opportunities for learning. Of course, it goes without saying that academic learning happens on field trips. But really I’m talking about things like executive functioning skills, or social and emotional intelligence, which are things most differently wired kids need some help with. Also, sometimes field trips just provided a much needed relief from things that might not be working at home. When I went on field trips that first year with Asher I would try to enjoy them as much as humanly possible and just be fully engaged in what we were doing and the change of pace. And then, of course, as a result, that usually shifted my energy, which generally had a positive impact on Asher who seemed to be ridiculously tethered to my energy and my moods. Another part of my new life as a homeschooling mama that definitely played a big role in my survival was that we bonded with another expat family, who had moved here around the same time. And they were also homeschooling their two daughters who happened to be around Asher’s age. So mercy became my on the ground Lifeline that first year and her girls gave Asher some instant friends. And that made a huge difference. Now, I know that our circumstances aren’t the norm for what most homeschoolers experience, especially in the US, you know, where they’re robust homeschooling communities and cities around the country. So it’s possible finding that sense of belonging and community can happen pretty easily. We didn’t have that because homeschooling isn’t very common here. And then we also had the added challenge of the language barrier. So for me having that girlfriend to meet up with where I could get my friendship, bonding time in, and then knowing that Asher could happily be playing with his new friends that quite possibly saved my life that year.
Debbie Reber 17:00
I will say, though, that the biggest shift I think I made that helped me survive that first year was regarding my own thinking. And that was about letting go and leaning in. So what do I mean by letting go? Well, as I’ve said before, on this podcast, I’m kind of a control freak. So I really had to learn how to stop trying to control our day, our productivity, and basically everything we did in our school, I learned the hard way that first year that the more I tried to impose my will and control over our learning environment. Even when I had the best possible intentions, the more that Asher resisted and things just went downhill from there. Letting go took me a long time. In fact, you know, we’re nearly four years into this, and I am still having to work on it daily. But in that first year, the simplest act of taking a deep breath, and reminding myself that it was going to be okay. And that Asher was going to be okay, and that the world wasn’t going to end if we didn’t get our math done. Or if we started school an hour later than we planned. That made a huge difference. It would get me through the day. And that’s really what you have to do when homeschooling a differently wired child, you have to take it day by day. Related to that is the fact that I worked hard to lean in. And by that I mean, I really tried to surrender daily to not only what we were doing, but to who Asher is, I worked really hard to shift my thinking to view being Asher’s teacher as the most important work I was doing. It took me about six months to have this aha moment. But when I did, things became so much easier, because I don’t think I realized how much I was still fighting homeschooling or thinking that you know, it’s something I could just do. But then when we were done for the day, I’d move on to my quote unquote, important work. So I realized that if I really and truly made myself available to Asher physically, mentally, emotionally available during our school day, then everything flowed so much better. So I tried to allow myself to go with the energy of the day, and also make sure that Asher felt every single day like he was appreciated, seen and supported, you know that I really had his back. Of course, I still had really bad days, and I still do have really bad days. But setting this intention every day to truly lean in and be present has been a game changer. And the last thing that helped me get through that first year is something I have no control over, but still it made one of the biggest differences and that is time. Just like getting over a terrible breakup or painful laws as time passed, both Astra and I slowly adjusted to our new reality to where we were living, to the fact that we were homeschooling. And also just kind of the reality of our new relationship as teacher and student. I would say it took me about six months to start to find my stride. It also took Asher about six months to realize that he didn’t hate his new life here. Is that a coincidence that we both had that six month time period? I don’t think so. The hard thing here is that we can speed up time and again, we have no control over it. So for me, most of it was just trusting and believing that things were going to get better that it wasn’t always going to be this hard. And luckily, as it always does, time proved me right. So that’s how I survived my first year of homeschooling, curricular support, parent coaching, shifting my expectations, having a detox period for Asher, going on field trips, finding community, letting go and leaning in and letting time pass. So if you are in the situation of being new to homeschooling, or you’re considering doing so, I hope that listening to this podcast has given you some inspiration to know that you can do it, and also permission to acknowledge how difficult and challenging it can be, as well as suggestions for how you can figure out a way to be in peace and confidence in the way that you do homeschool. In another month or two I’ll be doing the third part in this homeschooling solo cast series where I will talk about how we structure our school and our day. And if you have more things you’d like to hear from me about on this topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. I would love to hear from you. Thank you so much for listening.
Debbie Reber 21:58
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/session48. And I have a special ask for you this week as we are nearing a one year anniversary of the podcast which by the way seems actually crazy pants to me that I’ve been making these for a year, I have set a goal of having 50 ratings on iTunes. We’re at 35 right now. So still a great showing. But I would love to hit that 50 mark by our anniversary next month. So if you want to help me it’s super simple. Here’s what you do. Just go to the Tilt Parenting podcast page on iTunes, and at the top, click on ratings and reviews. You can then leave a rating with the click of the button. And if you’re feeling super ambitious and want to leave a review, I would love that too. Thank you so much for considering and helping us reach this goal. And lastly, 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. Thanks again for listening. For more information on Tilt Parenting visit www.tiltparenting.com.