Financial concerns are often top of the list for those wishing to unschool. And rightly so. The truth is, if we can’t make ends meet financially then our unschooling efforts will most likely fail.
I truly understand that that a roof over our heads and food on the table is probably a priority over whether kids go to school or not. To successfully unschool we should be much more aware as a community about our financial needs.
The Cultural Problem
I remember thinking it would be so easy to readapt to life after having a child. I mean, that’s the message that people keep pushing: have a kid, take a few months off (weeks in the case of the US), then go back to work and easily get your pre-baby life back.
Life is simply not the same after having kids, why do we try to pretend it is?
Of course many mothers don’t plan to go back to work until their kids go to school. But the premise is still much the same. As mothers we expect to have our freedom (and incomes) back no later than when kids hit school age.
As unschoolers we need to change our mindset about this. The earlier we can do this, the better.
There is also a problem that families often believe that they can continue to live a two-income lifestyle. I don’t blame them for believing, that’s what society pushes us to believe we want and need. It becomes a much bigger problem for families as it becomes a trap to keep both parents in full time employment (and therefore unable to home educate).
And then there is the problem of assuming that parents will feel the same about going back to work after the kids are born. It is a sad reality. We often think we know the answers, then a kid comes along and changes everything.
I feel that too many people put work, career and money prospects at the expense of their health and lives. We are personally guilty of this too! Too many employers fail to see the benefit of adapting their working style to keep these parents onboard in new and creative ways. And too many parents that wish to start their own thing leave it late enough to make it a super stressful or unachievable opportunity.
Many of my words come from my own experience. Many are speaking to my younger self - wishing I had known some of these things before hand.
I am looking to share my stories and others that I have heard time and time again from other home educating families.
Unschooling Is (Usually) A Partnership
Living an unschooling life is a joint agreement. A huge part of unschooling is being respectful and understanding to others in your family. I would think it would be nearly impossible to unschool without consent.
The parents need to be involved deeply together. This can often take time to evolve and adapt as they find their way. It can be really hard to making unschooling work when each parent is not fully on board with the concept. This doesn’t mean it will be easy if, it will just be super duper hard if both parents aren’t committed to the idea.
The kids will need to find their way too, both on their own personal journey, but also on the journey with their relationships with their siblings, parents and other family members.
Sometimes families can have a hard time getting support from other family members. This can be hard to deal with, but not impossible to overcome. As with anything, it helps if it is a planned choice so that there are no shock surprises.
I find one of the hardest things people have time to get their head around is ‘time’. As in the amount of time things take. As in things don’t happen overnight. As in sometimes it seems that everything takes so long. As in we measure work in time. We measure our kids achievements in time. All too often we want clear results fast.
Please let go of time as a measurement of progress. It will help everyone’s journey so much!
And please remember that things just take time. If you can hold onto your dream of unschooling for long enough then everything will fall into place. Being unable to cope financially will not give you the time you need to unschool.
Strategies On How To Make A Living
Sometimes I feel like I live in an alternate reality. I see how the future of work is changing, but then I step outside and there are all these thousands and millions of people still living in an old way.
Following are some strategies/approaches that I use or ones that I know that other home educated families have adopted.
One Working Parent
This is where one parent works full time. The understanding generally being that the family needs to learn to permanently live on one income. Of course, incomes can vary significantly depending on careers.
I am generalising with gender, which I hate, but mostly it is the men that go to work and the women home educate the kids. My husband is one of the few dads locally who actively and regularly participates in our unschooling efforts. It would be nice to seem some changes on this front, I am not too hopeful in the short term!
Some parents do take turns working. This will of course depend on their careers and how things can be managed. For some this is just not possible. For others it helps both parents keeping their careers and skills relevant. Also, for many it is just a reality - the need to work is there, and whatever parent can find work or earn the most may be the one who ends up working.
There is also the option for families to work part time. This could be both parents working part-time at different hours so that there is no need for childcare costs. Or, some just have one parent working part-time. As long as the finances add up, then why not?
Part-time work is a overly stigmatised, I feel, at least in the UK. Finding part-time work for a well paid career from the outset can be really hard. Often it can be easier to commit to full-time then consistently request to reduce your hours once you have settled in 😃
Working From Home
Technology has made it increasingly easy to work from home. Of course this doesn’t apply to all jobs, but the trend is on the up. Increasingly there is little need to actually travel to an office to do work.
Of course, it still means that you need to work. And often it is still on a full time basis, but having that flexibility can be the key to help you manage the daily needs of your home educated children.
Two Working Parents Full Time
Some may think it’s a bit controversial, but I certainly think it is an option. There really isn’t a reason why both parents can’t work full time whilst providing a suitable home education experience through other means. Seriously - sometimes parents are not suited to guiding their children full-time.
Instead of sending your kids to a private school then why not use the money to hire someone to help you out full time? A nanny is probably the natural choice. I’ve personally been loving the idea of a life coach for my kids. I have not managed to execute on this idea yet though.
Other option could be signing kids up to local education events. It will mostly depend on where you live, but sometimes there are places that children can attend during the day that isn’t quite a school.
This partially leads on from the previous point. Often there are alternative centres that can provide a fulfilling learning experience whilst also providing a space where you don’t need to be present for.
Some examples of this that we have locally are: a self managed learning centre, alternative learning centres, a local home education kids or play club. Many of these exist on a part time basis, but can often provide the relief for parents that need a break or some time to work!
This can sometimes be a tricky one! The whole idea of home education or unschooling can cause many arguments within families. It is worth getting support if you are lucky to have family local to you, or that you can visit on occassion.
Obviously it depends who would be helping you, and their situation, it’s also worth bearing in mind not to overload them either. However, I believe it’s a fantastic opportunity for family (most commonly Grandparents) to have the extra time to spend with your kids, hopefully in a way that doesn’t feel rushed. It will also bring life long memories and learning for children.
Our 5 year old currently goes to my mother’s house one evening a week. They are creating a relationship together that my older two boys have never had. It is important.
Sometimes families come together to offer support. This could be as a one off, an ongoing informal agreement or perhaps a shared childminder, nanny or grouped activity. It’s can be tricky to get these off the ground, but can be immensely helpful once they do.
Running Your Own Business and Being Independent
This is the route I have gone down, along side by husband. We run a business on our own terms, where we also happen to work part-time (kinda!).
Getting a business off the ground can take time, but with the right focus it is possible to create something sustainable around your family needs. Of course it depends on the type of business you create - you would need to put in great thought into how your business will work alongside your home educating and family needs.
In the UK many families carefully balance the support they can get from the government (e.g. housing benefit, income support, disability allowance) whilst home educating and sometimes working part-time, being self employed or starting a business. It’s worth looking into the options to see how or if you can creatively managed a home educating lifestyle this way.
This is something that doesn’t happen too often. However, I have seen some families turn to crowdfunding to help them through hard times. Every family is different and some have genuine and difficult circumstances. Sometimes using crowdfunding platforms can help you out of a real bad situation.
Though, in honesty, I think they fail more often than not!
We live in a world of over consumption and pressure to be constantly consuming. We need this! or that! And if we don’t get this or that then we will fail our children, fail as parents.
We’ve been making efforts over the past 4 years to minimise. Yes, that’s 4 years! And we are not done yet! For us, it’s been a gradual slow process of getting rid of all the things that we don’t need. There are the physical things that we have sold or given away. There are the things cluttering our minds. Then there are the things that society tries to pressure us into.
Really - we can do without many of these things, and making do without means we often end up spending less.
We’ve read stories of families turning to Tiny Houses. Or some who have sold their property, ditched most of their belongings and just hit the road. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worth opening your mind to the possibilities.
We’ve tried various bits of travelling and personally found it quite tough, I think we’d like to try again in the future, life is just a bit mad and hectic at the moment.
Once a child turns 10…
I know modern society doesn’t place much trust in kids until they become adults, but honestly…from the age of 10 (often earlier!) they just don’t need constant monitoring or hand holding. Kids can be quite independent, as parents we need to make them so from as early as we feel is appropriate.
I use the age of 10 as a ball park age, take it with a pinch of salt and look at your children and situation individually. How can you instil independence in them? How can you guide and coach them to work on projects without your constant help? How can you get support from other people to help them grow?
Is there anything else I could add to this list? How are you getting by and making your home education work for your family?