Home Education Magazine
November-December 2002 - Articles and Columns
And What Does Your Husband Do? - Isabel Shaw
As a stay-at-home mom, I used to be a bit uneasy when asked the "And what do you do?" question. Responses were tepid, at best, if the questioners were parents who were actually employed. And in my experience, the chance of a negative reply was about 50-50 if I happened to mention that my children learned outside of a school environment.
But my unusual lifestyle has put me in yet another awkward position: what to say when new acquaintances ask, "And what does your husband do?" You see my husband, Ray, left his job and homeschools our two girls. Curiously, this is harder for folks to fathom than the first two scenarios.
It all started when things at Ray's job went from bad to worse. Witnessing hundreds of indiscriminate layoffs, low morale, and poor management, Ray knew his days at that company were numbered. Although we saw the handwriting on the wall, one is never really ready for a sudden departure after thirty-plus years of service. We thought we were prepared for this enormous life change, but nothing could prepare us for the comments, suggestions, and advice of well-meaning friends and relatives.
Fortunately, just around the time Ray left (the same month, to be exact) I picked up a steady writing job. That income, and some severance pay, would get us through. Ray welcomed the opportunity to be with our two girls, then twelve and seven years old. But the eyebrows went up immediately. "You're going to stay home with the kids?" several friends asked him incredulously. One guy laughed out loud. "You'll never do it - you'll be looking for a job next week!" "Oooohhh - wouldn't be me!" another whistled. "I gotta be out doing things, keeping busy!" A relative whispered, "Do you think it's healthy?" Let's just say these comments didn't bolster our rather fragile emotional state. Were we crazy? Can a dad leave his career and jump into the homeschool arena?
There were days I thought they were right. Although Ray was (is) a skilled technician, able to troubleshoot problems on billion-dollar laser light-guide equipment, he couldn't quite get the hang of coordinating a homeschool day. Here in New Jersey homeschooling involves lots of driving. Homeschooled friends are scattered around the state, and get-togethers take planning and coordination. Academic work is squeezed between activities, projects, clubs, and play dates. It took me almost ten years to get this juggling act down to a workable plan, and I gladly (well, okay - gleefully) handed it over to Ray. However, to someone accustomed to an organized, predictable work/time progression as Ray was, our whole schedule (or lack of) was baffling. The kids were often uncooperative, and yes, unappreciative of the vast amount of time and effort homeschooling entailed. Flexibility and frequent schedule changes are usually not valued in the corporate world, but they are the backbone of homeschooling. This was a difficult concept for Ray to grasp.
I remember Ray's playful comments about having "no supper again" when he was working and I was homeschooling full time. Always generous with his time, it was not unusual for him to come home, make supper and then clean up. But I think in his heart of hearts he thought that I just didn't have what it takes to homeschool, keep the house clean, and have a tasty dinner waiting each evening. It was never spoken, and perhaps it was an unconscious thought on his part, but I felt there was an underlying tone of, What do you do all day? What could possibly take so much time? But since Ray has been in the homeschool hot seat, his perception of homeschooling has changed. Ray no longer wonders what I did all day, but how I did everything I did! And that, I must say, has been very gratifying.
We've also worked out a more realistic plan that utilizes our strengths. I am more of a "people person" so I pitch in and set up activities, classes, play dates, and social interactions. Ray miraculously remembers every bit of math or science and just about anything technical he's ever learned, and is becoming a wonderful teacher. We enjoy eclectic homeschooling, unschooling most of the time, with some basic math or spelling thrown in. The hardest obstacle to overcome has been the occasional cranky, uncooperative, or hormonal outburst the girls direct at him. In the school he went to when he was a boy, kids were yelled at, hit, and sometimes beaten for this behavior. Of course we'd never hit out kids, but re-learning effective discipline has not been easy. I smile as I listen to him create his own bag of tricks for resolving conflicts and coping with our lovable but sometimes unreasonable kids.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of our "dad at home" adventure has been watching the whole family grow and learn together. For me, jumping into a writing career at almost fifty years old still seems a bit unreal. I think it's healthy for my girls to see me struggling (successfully!) as I learn to use the computer with all of its bells and whistles. And Ray has rediscovered his guitar. Making music was always his first love, but the idea of a career in music was put on hold many years ago. Now that dream is alive again, and a list of homeschooled students requesting guitar lessons from Ray continues to grow.
I don't know where this path will lead us, but we're having a lot of fun along the way. I suppose a simple response to any questions about what we do should simply be: "We're life-long learners." Now that will give them something to think about!
Isabel helps her husband Ray homeschool their two daughters ages 13 and 9. She is the Homeschool Consultant for FamilyEducation.com where she publishes a monthly feature article, answers questions on their expert forum, and manages a variety of homeschool message boards. Isabel also enjoys coordinating the NJ Teens Homeschool Group and networking with New Jersey's amazing homeschool community.
© 2002 Isabel Shaw
November-December 2002 - Articles and Columns
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