The Dark Side of Homeschooling: A Glimpse at the Rough Stuff

From the outside, a pair of rose coloured glasses covers the world of homeschooling. It’s presented on social media as cute little homeschool rooms with desks and books and posters on the walls. Families snuggling on the couch together around books, picture-perfect smiles on their faces. Carefully curated images of projects and products cropped and filtered to show the best. 

But the truth is – homeschooling is so much more raw and real than that. It’s filled with dark corners and messes just out of shot. In this post, we’re going to jump into some of the pieces of homeschooling that aren’t often talked about. We’re going to take a look at the dark side of homeschooling. 

Picture of a hand reaching out of dark water with the text "The Dark Side of Homeschooling: A Glimpse at the Rough Stuff. Because it's not always picture perfect."

I’m going to be truthful, even if it hurts, and I’m going to share the observations that I’ve seen and experienced from the inside of our homeschooling journey. What follows aren’t necessarily solutions, but it’s the start of a conversation.

WHY I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF HOMESCHOOLING?

I think this is an important conversation so that people have a realistic view of what they are experiencing. There is unfair idealism presented about homeschooling and that puts a lot of pressure on people, especially when they are new. What else can they hold their experiences up against to compare and evaluate if they are doing it “right?” I want people to know that if their homeschool journey feels more like slogging through mud instead of dancing in wildflower – they aren’t alone and that what they are experiencing is completely normal.

Some disclaimers before we start: 

#1. I am speaking specifically from the perspective of a homeschooling mom who has a circle and community that is particularly dense with other homeschooling moms. Dads – I want you to know that I hear you and that I know from speaking with some of you that the topics I cover here are ones that you also experience, oftentimes with more intensity since you are a minority within an already small group. But, I can’t speak on your experience first-hand, so I will be using the term “homeschool mom” throughout this post. Thank you for being amazing. 

#2. Some of the topics that follow are broad and sweeping generalizations. They don’t speak to specific people or situations. They might not be experienced by everyone or maybe only appear for brief periods. The goal of this post is to move the picture-perfect image a little to the side so we can look at the hidden mess just out of view.

NEVER ALONE. YET LONELY. 

There is a strange paradox in homeschooling where we almost always have someone around, yet can feel completely lonely. 

Just to be clear, homeschoolers know that when we choose this life, we are signing up to be around our kids all the time. We know that this is going to be a big commitment without the daily break that public or private school provides. We love our kids and enjoy being around them, but being responsible and on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week gets tiring when there is no break. That’s why you will find so many posts, conversations, and books about the importance of self-care for homeschool moms.  

In fairness, loneliness doesn’t seem to just apply to the homeschool world. It might more of a “mom” thing in general. When we are kids, it seems almost natural to build relationships and find friends. But as we grow older, it becomes more difficult. We are missing those deep, nourishing, and vital relationships with others. We are missing that important connection. And that leads to an overwhelming sense of being alone. Especially if we don’t have something to relate to when we communicate with neighbours who send their kids to public school and maybe don’t understand our lifestyle.

How can we combat these feelings of loneliness? 

As homeschooling parents, we know the importance of providing social experiences for our kids. So we sign them up for clubs, classes, and communities to give them those opportunities. But, do we do the same for ourselves? Probably not, and not with the same intentional purpose. Sign yourself up for something just for you. Plan to use any time you have with other adults during the programs your kids are part of to connect with others.  We need a support group just as much as our children do.

Online friends are friends too. Reach out to people who have something in common with you and get to know them. Maybe it’s just one piece of your life – like that they are working homeschool moms. Whatever offers you a chance to connect with someone. It’s not usually the same kind of relationship as the in-person type, but it’s a good start and some online connections can grow into quality relationships.

In-person homeschool groups and communities like co-ops can be a great way to connect. You will likely see people rave about co-ops, for example. It’s true! These offer your kids the chance to be with other kids in the same lifestyle as they are but also gives you a chance to do the same. The unfortunate part is that the homeschool community tends to be very reminiscent of public high schools with their various cliques. If you don’t have the same faith, method, ideals – or whatever – you can be left out and ostracized. People can be nasty. Exclusivity can be a thing. As much as it is disappointing to say, it’s the truth. But, don’t give up. Don’t be scared – Make sure you try. Personalities may clash but maybe – just maybe – you’ll find your new best friend. Just be prepared that it might not be as idyllic a scenario as it seems on the surface. 

STRUGGLING WITH OUR CHILDREN

For better or worse, our children come with unique personalities, struggles, and desires for independence. That means that we’re not guaranteed to have our day flow as we have planned in our head, that our ideas and opinions of how things should go might not go quite as smoothly as we’d hoped. Our children have their own ideas about how things are going to go. 

Then it can be a power struggle. Conflicts happen. Attitude happen. Completely irrational arguments and unwillingness to go with the plan – no matter how amazing or well-thought-out it is. Sometimes, these can feel like they are unending. 

Most people don’t often want to share that they are struggling with their kids or that homeschooling doesn’t feel like it’s working. Constant headbutts and fighting just wears you down. But if this is your house and you are at the end of your rope – please rest assured that you aren’t the only one. You are absolutely not alone. 

Here’s an excerpt from a journal back when one of my boys was about 7-8 years old. 

He sits curled up on the floor of the kitchen, barricaded into the corner by the chairs he’s pulled around himself. His eyes bore into me, daggers shooting from them wishing I would just go away. There’s a series of words being muttered to me that I can’t hear but am well familiar with the context of the intent of them. 

Sighing, I work hard to not succumb to the internal pressure that I feel building up that leads to me screaming at him in irritation and retaliation. I said I would work on my patience this year, and it seems like this child is determined to force my lessons sooner and in more extremity than I was looking for. 

I’d been extra patient today. This child in particular needs one on one school time. He finds it hard to focus when his brothers are at the table at the same time. So I usually get him to sit through our family morning Bible time and then let him wander off to play Lego, Hot Wheels, or his Nintendo DS while I finish up with the other 2 before calling him up for his turn. They even headed outside first thing in the morning to play in the snow for a good hour or so before we got started – which pushed our lessons back a bit. His brothers worked hard and finished up. But not him. 

This is where we stood now. 3 hours after I first tried to get school started for the day.

“Ok. So…. what can we do about this?” I ask, hoping that in his anger he’ll still be able to come up with a creative solution. Apparently, school is “horrible” and “boring” and he is “never doing school again.” Got it. But that’s not really an option. Learning is kind of vital to our future successes. And it’s not like I’m asking him to write a 40-page essay on some insipid topic. I just asked him to write this week’s spelling words on slips of paper to update our spelling list. He doesn’t have any solid ideas – if he can even form a coherent thought other than anger at all. 

It’s this moment right here that a homeschooling mom starts questionning her decision to homeschool and mentally debating the steps involved in putting said child in school. Maybe he’ll respond better to someone else’s teaching. Maybe he needs a full day of structure. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. 

Sighing, I finally give up. Today’s a write-off. I manage to keep my temper and chase him out of the corner. I grab my laptop and his hand, leading him upstairs to my room. He’s screaming now, as loud as he can, but a least he’s coming with me instead of struggling against me. We settle into my room. The screaming continues. I explain what he’s lost now that he’s refused to do school and his tune changes to screaming about wanting to do it. Rolling my eyes slightly, I let him know that would make me happy – but he’s still lost all the extras today. 

In an attempt to get him focused on something, I pull up an education-related learning website and get him started. It seems to work. The screaming stops. We work together on math for a bit then we head over to readingeggs.com. At this point, he’s smiling again. Exhausted, I lay down and let him play for a while. 

I love this child so much. He’s vibrant and animated and wears his heart on his sleeve. He can be so compassionate and caring and yet, in complete opposition – so angry and defiant. He’s independent and out of the box. 

That’s my cue. I have worked hard this semester to come up with fun and creative lesson plans to try and pull together a more structured approach to our days instead of just letting the day go as it flows. But, what I really should have done is realize that this boy, this child … he’s different. He needs close learning with me. He needs it to be different and completely outside the box. He needs something that will capture his attention and hold it. He needs to have his passion ignited. 

School isn’t a good option. It worries me to think of a label being slapped on him if he was to behave this way in a classroom (although all group activities we’ve done to date have shown him to be just fine). I think of how he could just slip through the cracks in learning and not pay attention to what’s going on because he’s busy trying to make people laugh or distracted by the things around him. I know homeschooling him is the right choice. Some days, like today, it’s just exhausting. We’ll stick it out though. 

We have stuck it out. Even when we’ve had periods of constant head-butting. Those periods have taught me a lot about stepping back and evaluating what we’re doing. There have been some serious struggles about learning in our homeschool that ended up with me throwing all my plans for the year in the garbage and curling up on the floor in sobs as I tried to figure out how to meet the needs of my children instead of trying to force them to do what I wanted. Is it perfect? No. But we’ve come a long way from the child barricaded under my kitchen table. 

Don’t be afraid to admit that you are having hard days. Homeschooling is a hard job. An incredibly hard job. 

FEAR, GUILT, DOUBT, AND FAILURE

Our minds are a playground for fear, guilt, doubt, and failure. And it’s honestly more that we have the constant questions nagging at my thoughts. How many times do you find yourself asking things like: Am I doing enough? Am I making the right choices? What if I’m screwing up my kids? Am I? Should I? Have I? Will I? Do I? All these questions are constantly bombarding us and wearing us down. 

It doesn’t help that society likes to take those silent internal questions and voice them aloud to us – demanding answers that we don’t have. It rubs them raw and makes those feelings of fear, guilt, doubt, and failure so much louder. 

Doing anything outside of the norms is exhausting and a serious balance between standing your ground and questioning everything. 

But this also plays into a bigger issue: The Weight of Motherhood

As a mom, I’m not only responsible for my own needs – taking care of my health, my mental well-being, my hygiene, and such, but I’m also mentally, physically, and emotionally responsible for every single one of my child’s needs, too. They have to be fed, clothed, bathed, taught, etc. 

On top of that, I also have to be all their brains. For some reason, I’m the one that everyone always comes to with things like “Have you seen…?” “Do you know where this is…?” “How do I…?” “Can you help me with…?” “How do I spell…?” I get pulled in a million different directions all day long and interrupted so many times that I don’t know what to do when there’s a gap longer than 2 minutes to myself.

On top of that, I’m a wife. That means that I have a relationship that I want to prioritize and nurture, time I want to spend with my husband, responsibilities that being a partner requires – like finances. 

Add to that the educational piece of homeschooling. I took it on willingly, but now I’ve got that full load of responsibility added to everything else. I am now responsible to choose my children’s curriculum, methodology, or learning plans and organizing the activities to participate in. I have to find ways to help my kids connect with other kids and make friends. I have to figure out how to ensure my child is successful in the future. It often feels like I am personally responsible for my children’s failure. 

If you work, that’s another layer. And if you are a single parent, you have all of these things to handle on your own. 

The weight of motherhood is crushing. The more layers of responsbility we add to our lives, the heavier it gets, the more it weighs us down – making it hard to push forward. No wonder we struggle with questions of failure, guilt, and doubt.

The weight of motherhood is very crushing. The more layers of responsbility we add to our lives, the heavier it gets. The more it weighs us down - making it hard to push forward. No wonder we struggle with questions of failure, guilt, and doubt.

It is incredibly easy to feel guilty about intentionally setting time aside for ourselves because with all these layers on us, there are a million other things that we feel we should or could be doing with our time. Like, I should be spending this time with the kids because I’ve been busy lately. Or the dishes need to be washed. We have so much pressure to do the things we feel that we need to do – all these things that have been piled up on top of us. 

If you are struggling, trying to figure out how to juggle all these pieces, or the weight is making it too heavy – again – you are not alone. One of these layers is more than enough. All of them is too many for one single person to carry. And that’s okay. 

This is why we need to give ourselves grace. To take the time we need for self-care. To teach our children independence so they can take care of their own needs. To prioritize the things that matter in each moment and our lives. To look at all the things that vie for our attention and time and remove all the extras which we don’t need. To time block so we know what pieces happen when. 

HOW DO WE HANDLE THESE CHALLENGES? 

First, if you are failing, if you are overwhelmed, if you are miserable, if the kids are fighting to the point that you wonder if you are witnessing the rebellion vs. the empire….. Step back. Take a bigger picture view of life.

Get rid of all the extras. Say no to the things that you don’t have to do.

Then look at your homeschool life. What isn’t working?

Try to keep your emotions out of it. What is causing these conflicts or feelings?

Interview your kids and get their feedback. 

It takes some time to sit down and evaluate everything: how your kids learn, researching different learning options, considering your personal needs and those of each of your kids, and then thinking about what your kids need – not what you need. 

Taking a step back and breathing is important. It’s okay to take a break and figure this out. 

THE LOSS OF IDENTITY

One of the things that can easily happen is having your identity become ‘homeschool mom.’ That’s not a problem – it’s who we are. But the concern is that it becomes our only identity. What happens after our kids graduate or move on from homeschooling? Who are you then? Are you anything other than “homeschool mom”? 

It’s important for us to have something just for us, some kind of core identity outside of the homeschooling parent framework because it’s really easy to lose ourselves in the chaos of daily life. Think of your retirement from this label – who are you without it? 

WHY DON’T WE TALK ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF HOMESCHOOLING? 

In general, society already has a pretty negative view of homeschooling and no one wants to mar the homeschool life more than society already has. If someone admitted weakness or failure, a monster waits in the wing ready to pounce and tear you to shreds. No one wants to be told “you chose this, so now you have to suffer with it,” or “see? I told you it wasn’t going to work anyway!” No one wants to be the one that others use as an example of why homeschooling is exactly what society thinks. 

Within the homeschool community too, there’s this hidden pressure to make sure your child is the poster child for educational excellence: Get your kids into post-secondary with incredible success. Do all the beautiful social media worthy projects. Buy the expensive curriculum. 

Those standards and the natural tendency to compare our lives to others are a drain. Admitting the problems you are having is being vulnerable instead of competitive. 

The last part is that it’s really hard to find someone who understands. If you talk to someone who doesn’t homeschool about these struggles, they wouldn’t have the same perspective on your lifestyle that you do – and often, this results in a not-so-helpful “just send them to school then.” If you talk to someone who does understand, often they will give advice instead of just listening as you mourn the trials you are going through. And that can feel like judgement (even if it’s not.) 

THE PROBLEM OF EXPECTATIONS

Almost everything on this list is about expectations. 

  • What school should or is going to look like in your home
  • Other people’s opinions are of us
  • What people think of homeschooling and what they expect us to do
  • Milestones that a child “should” reach at a specific time
  • What you can accomplish

It is completely about our mindset. 

In any situation, homeschooling or not, if you have the expectation that XYZ will happen and it doesn’t – then you will struggle with guilt. If a bar is high and you can’t reach it, you will always feel like a failure. If you think that homeschooling needs to be a certain way or your children need to do things a certain way, and you can’t make that happen, you will always feel frustrated, angry, and defeated. 

Let expectations go. Set the bar low or get rid of it altogether.

The minute you get rid of the idea that “this thing should be done this way,” you will feel much freer and happier. 

The other thing to do is to choose happiness. Make conscious decisions and be confident in them. Own them. Claim them. Accept them. This is easier said than done, especially when faced with opposition or outside pressure, but so, so worth it. 

THE FINAL STEP

Let’s change this. Let’s turn it from the dark side of homeschooling to the reality of homeschooling. Let’s be open. Let’s be raw and real and honest – with ourselves and with others. Talk about these things with people. Let’s open the conversations around these topics and admit they happen. Homeschooling is hard. It’s full of people and personalities and pressures that we need to talk about. Find a friend, talk to me – do whatever it takes to make this journey one that you love. 

Lisa Marie Fletcher
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3 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Homeschooling: A Glimpse at the Rough Stuff”

  1. This describes exactly where I am. It’s hard. I have no community. My kids are in the tween and early teen years. It feels like everything I try doesn’t “work.” They take so long to start the day and by the time they’re ready, I feel defeated, annoyed and frustrated. Sometimes I feel like giving up. This stage is challenging me way more than I could have predicted. The younger years were “easier.”

    I appreciate you starting the conversation and sharing. It helps to know I’m not “alone.” All the Instagram perfect pictures of mostly younger children are a hard contrast to what I’m currently experiencing. This definitely adds to my feelings of failure and alienation. I had to take a few months hiatus to clear my head. Hopefully more moms (and dads) will find comfort and perhaps be more willing to open up and share this very “real” side of homeschooling/parenting.

  2. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the title but this was actually quite helpful and hopeful. Somehow just knowing that others are going through the same struggles takes a weight of you because you stop taking your struggles so personally and realize it’s not me, it’s the situation. I’m not to blame personally. Everyone is experiencing this. Somehow this actually motivates me to try harder, when I realize I’m not a failure – it empowers me.

  3. 100% all of these points resonate with me. I am just starting out on the homeschool journey and find myself constantly stressing if I am doing the right thing for our kiddo. If the choices I am making to keep her safe from brain damaging covid, crowded classrooms, backwards education curriculum and broken systems are helping to foster her future.

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