Four years ago, my daughter Alice was coasting through school on the parts she did like (words) and charming her way out of the bits she hated (numbers). For numerous reasons—some logical, some a little naive—my partner Daniel and I decided to try a year of homeschooling. The educational materials were available, so I didn’t have to create anything I was underqualified to teach. I wrote, so I was already at home, drifting around the house in yoga pants, and she was nine, so realistically I couldn’t do that much harm. It was, in a word, feasible, which isn’t the same thing as a good idea.
For weeks after we decided to homeschool, I’d lie awake at night, a laundry list of concerns and horrors keeping me company. Was this about me or about her? Was a flawed but traditional education better than whatever cobbled-together weirdness I would create?
What about math? Would I need to pay a tutor vast sums to make sure my daughter didn’t have her mother’s fear and loathing of math? Or was I prepared to unleash upon the world another person whose palms sweat at the thought of calculating a tip?
If my greatest hope is that my daughter enters adulthood better than her mother, shouldn’t someone better than her mother be teaching her?
But running parallel to my concerns for my offspring was a deep, grubby, and very self-centered thought: I’ll never be alone.
After years of observing myself as an introvert in comparison with my partner—a lovely and unrepentant extrovert—I’m here to say the evidence is right: extroverts are energized by company, while introverts are drained by it.
I don’t mean to be this way. If we’re friends, I’m thrilled to see you and happy to hear what you did over the holidays. But sometimes after an hour, and certainly after two or three hours, I’m done. I have nothing left to give. Not so much as one more supportive nod or approving “uh-huh” for your plans to redo your bathroom. If you ask me what I’m up to, I’ll shrug. I’ve run out of vocabulary. Give me some down time—a place where I can flip through a magazine, throw a cat on my lap, and wait for my cellular horror of social interaction to abate—and I promise you, I’ll come roaring back with all sorts of opinions about backsplash tile options.
Whatever flaws the life of the writer has (still waiting to be able to afford my own island), it has provided plenty of time alone. Whether one thinks homeschooling is a good idea or a terrible idea, everyone can agree I would rarely be unaccompanied.
In spite of my many concerns, we decided to homeschool. In the four years since, I’ve discovered that the things I was most worried about are not a big deal. Yes, I cannot teach math unless as a cautionary tale, but Daniel can. And what Daniel can’t teach, I can cover (as long as I have the teacher’s guide handy—the one with the answer key).
As far as my daughter being a better student than I was: again, not the problem I’d originally imagined. Thanks to the quality and abundance of online resources, my kid is learning to write computer code and speak Chinese, which, cross fingers, means she might actually earn a living in the 21st century.
In short, she appears to be thriving. Nonetheless, I was right to worry about one thing: I am almost never alone.
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. Because she is a teenager, some days she wakes up later than I do, so I get about an hour in the morning by myself. But even those times when she is working in one room and I’m hiding—I mean working—in another, my ear, my brain, and my entire maternal nervous system are still trained on her. Is that the silence of concentrated academic effort or the silence of goofing around? Impossible to say. Better go check.
I love this kid and being her mother more deeply than I could have ever dreamt. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now, but the fact remains: it has its moments. If you’re an introvert thinking about homeschooling, make your choice with the full knowledge it will mean years of being a plural and not a singular.
For example, I planned to write this piece while Alice studied her Chinese characters. Since the average Chinese newspaper requires you to recognize between 2,000 and 3,000 of them, I figured that bought me plenty of Quinn Thinky Time. I went to my office, which is a floating designation, meaning “wherever I happen to be at the time.” At that moment, my office happened to be the bathroom floor with the vacuum cleaner in the doorway to frighten off the cats. I would create in peaceful solitude. So you can imagine my surprise when Alice knocked on the door ten minutes later.
“I finished a chapter. I got 92%,” she said happily.
“Good,” I said.
We stared at each other.
“You said,” she says expectantly, “that if I got over 90%, I could color my hair.”
She’s 14. A great many of her friends have gloriously unnaturally colored hair right now. With my permission, she had used her babysitting money to buy a bottle of semi-permanent maroon dye. I had, without thinking, tied using it to doing well on her Chinese, which had lit a bright reddish-brown fire underneath her.
“Sure, but I’m…writing,” I said wistfully, pointing to the tablet.
“That’s okay,” Alice said supportively, “I’ll figure it out by myself.”
There are mothers who would let their children figure out hair dye on their own. I am not that person. Instead of writing and thinking in blissful, soul-bathing solitude in the bathroom for two hours, I watched my daughter apply purple glop to her head and reminded her to apply Vaseline to her ears. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world though, and I like to think we sort of covered Chemistry when, afterwards, we Googled “how to quickly remove semi-permanent maroon hair dye from brown hair.”
If you are seriously thinking about homeschooling—even though you’re the sort of person who needs a little quiet time or you’ll start pulling out your own eyelashes—let me assure you, it can be done. You just have to notice when the opportunity arises. It might happen every afternoon after homeschool is done when you’ve raced out the door and gotten your homegrown student to their choir practice, their judo lessons, or their play date with their friends. You will hand them to a responsible adult; you will smile pleasantly at your offspring and wish them a good practice/rehearsal/play date; and then you will go.
“But,” you might ask, “what if I have more than one child and they’re never in programs at the same time? What if we not only homeschool but I have a part- or full-time job?” Then you should know that I admire the living hell out of you, and I don’t know how you’re going to do it. That, however, doesn’t mean you can just put quiet time away for later like some delicate valuable you put in storage while the kids are little. Introverts need time by themselves as deeply as they need food, and while you can certainly cut back on both, you’re going to suffer.
If you can hand your family to your spouse or a relative for two hours a week, take it, and try very hard to not listen to that voice which notes what errands you could be doing in that time—unless you happen to be one of those introverts who is recharged by going to Target.
You cannot forget that being introverted is as much a part of who you are as being a parent. It’s easy to sell that part of yourself short, to promise yourself you’ll have quiet later, next month, or when the kids are in college, but that’s a recipe for disaster.
I’ve known parents who took time for themselves by walking early in the morning, by meditating, or by even sitting in their cars at lunchtime at work; none of this is a deep, arcane secret. Ironically, it’s this simplicity that makes it so easy to put off your alone time until tomorrow. From introvert to introvert, I’m asking you—begging you—to stop doing that. Remember, no one begrudges the extroverted parent a night out with friends as a regular prescription for sanity. The introverted homeschooling parent deserves his or her version of that too.
After all, if one of the reasons you’ve thought about homeschooling is the desire to teach your children, why wouldn’t you want to show them how to take care of other people while also taking care of yourself?