I originally wrote this post in 2018. I was privileged to enjoy participating in a co-op with all kinds of moms. What follows are my impressions of just some of the many ways there are, to be a homeschool mom. Updated for formatting in April 2021. Thanks for coming by to read!
In my eight years homeschooling, I have met all kinds of mothers.
The beauty of motherhood is that it takes no particular form. It is a shape-shifter, a chameleon, adapting to the circumstances. Fortunately, in the modern age, there are many different forms to choose from.
At our homeschool co-op, one of the most prevalent forms is what I will call, quite lovingly, the Earth Mother. These parents concentrate on their child’s connection to the Earth, to Nature and to natural ways of being, in one way or another.
In this general category of Earth Mothers, you might find the following subgroups:
- The Vegan Mom
- The Organic Mom
- The Attachment Mom
- The Unschooling Mom
- The Devout Mom
- The Yoga Mom
- The Environmentalist Mom
[Many of these groups naturally overlap. And since I belong to none of them, please forgive me if I mis-categorize any of them. These are broad categories and I am not meaning to refer to any specific person or people. This is also written with fondness and a bit of tongue-in-cheek. So, don’t take it personally, please!]
You can see how these categories gravitate towards harmony with Nature.
- Veganism, with healthy, natural foods, not made from animal products, stressing peaceful coexistence with the animal world rather than the plundering of it.
- The organic movement, with its emphasis on foods untainted by modern chemical pesticides or fertilizers, using natural methods to contain pests and ensure fertility.
- Attachment parenting, with its responsiveness to the natural needs of children, and its focus on physical closeness to promote bonding and security.
- Unschooling, where a child’s natural inclination to learn is fostered and the child is allowed, with facilitation by the parent, to set the course for his or her education.
- Devotion to a religious practice, which may require more natural techniques for doing everyday things, and which may discard common but highly chemically-dependent practices in our culture.
- Yoga, the art and science of being in sync with your body, a naturally calming and stress-relieving antidote to many of our modern-day ills.
- Environmentalism. It’s hard to get closer to Nature than this. Parents want their kids to know and value the Earth around them.
Not Exactly an Earth Mother, Myself
Being a child of the sixties, born to a staider generation than those which followed, I had a fairly conservative upbringing. We lived in the suburbs. My dad worked. My mom stayed home until we were older. We went to church. We went to public school.
Since I waited to have my four children until my thirties, I went from being close in age to most of the moms in my oldest daughter’s set, to being absolutely the oldest mom in my youngest son’s co-op. In fact, many grammas who visit co-op these days are younger than I, and many of the moms could easily be my own children.
Fortunately for them, this is not so.
I like to think that hanging out with a younger crowd keeps me young, but my birth certificate begs to differ. Being the oldest tends to result in a fair amount of culture shock. Not every parent, these days, grew up with the same preconceptions about parenting that I did. In fact, among my current associates, I probably seem rather quaint and outmoded.
As hard as it may be, for them to understand my point of view, it is equally difficult for me to understand Earth Mothers. Even as I observe them in their natural habitat, the homeschool co-op.
Sign Upon the Dotted Line
My first few years of homeschool, I was very “by the book.” I had, in fact, read at least 10-12 books on homeschooling, and more specifically, homeschooling a child with special needs, in the year prior to taking my eldest son out of school. I was pretty paranoid that I was going to get it all wrong.
In my naive imagination, homeschoolers were girls in prairie dresses and bonnets, demurely coaxing sacred hymns from their violins. This was early in the Obama years, when being conservative was chic, and could get you a reality show.
I only ever saw a few of that type in real life, and usually only at homeschool conventions. Most of the homeschoolers I actually mixed with were of the secular variety, since I had decided I didn’t want our homeschool to be bound by a single religious outlook.
A lot of harsh, often political words had been preached from the pulpit in our family church in the preceding years. It had been made very clear that our family’s eclectic belief system, which strayed a bit from orthodoxy, was no longer welcome. This resulted in a rather fractured relationship with our home church. Add to that the difficulties of accommodating a wonderful child, who, at the time, had the attention span of a gnat. We basically had no choice but to stay home on Sundays.
At the time, signed “Statements of Faith” were common among religious homeschool co-ops in our area. With a sour taste in my mouth from our own church, I decided to look for a co-op that required no such signature..
Finding Like-Minded Moms
We started with a very casual group of secular homeschoolers, meeting at parks and doing outings. But that ended shortly after it began, as co-ops sometimes do. With drama.
We then moved on to another, budding co-op. By this time, my younger son had joined our homeschool adventure. This co-op, once it got its legs up under it, became a successful organization. Of course, like all volunteer groups, you would have the occasional drama. But it was not enough drama to deter a few courageous moms from keeping it going, year after year. Unlike the other group, this co-op was able to rise again from the ashes. Eventually a few of those who had flown the coop, so to speak, came back. With no small thanks to the Earth Moms and their stellar healing powers.
Don’t Eat That!
I grew up in the canned and frozen “convenience” food era of the sixties and severties. But by the 2010’s, when I began homeschooling, the organic movement was in full bloom.
Early on, like any mom of young children, I did do my best to make sure my kids were fed good, nutritious food. At the tail end of my four children, however, I became laxer. I allowed myself to delegate lunches and snacks to those children, who were old enough to feed themselves. And though I cooked a nutritious meal more or less every night, I also indulged in sodas and chocolate and even fast food (Gasp!) if I didn’t feel like cooking.
I was not a purist by any means. More like a pragmatist. I had grown up appreciating, not disdaining, convenience. Packing lunches was never my style.
The Earth Moms I met at co-op definitely raised “attention to detail” in food preparation to a higher standard. They had all sorts of dietary requirements. Some ate strictly kosher. Some were vegan. Some were vegetarian, pescatarian, I even heard “flexitarian”, meaning, if they really wanted meat, they would eat it.
Being a lifelong lover of cheeseburgers and Spaghetti Bolognese, and the granddaughter of a butcher, this conscientiousness about food was hard to wrap my head around.
In addition, there were moms who were strictly organic in their diets, whether vegetarian or meat-eating. Some of the mothers were not just feeding their preschoolers, but also still nursing them at the ages of three and four. More power to them, but to be “on call” indefinitely like that was not in my make-up.
Some of the Earth Mothers (and even some Earth Fathers) expressed their naturalistic tendencies more in their approaches to homeschooling, or in their spiritual practices.
Among these, I would group those who unschool. Especially those who have a strict philosophy of allowing the children to naturally choose the direction to go in their own education. They learn with plenty of help, of course, when needed, from the parents. But one aspect of this self-directed learning may be for the parents to refrain from imposing any “coercive” curriculum upon the child.
I had a hard time understanding this, coming from an earlier school of parenting, one that tends to guide the child, or decide for the child, when it comes to larger decisions. At least until the kid proves himself worthy of trust. Which may sometimes not be until college.
Since these initial impressions, I have made my peace with unschooling. For us, it has been at times a necessary tool, especially when dealing with my younger son, who belongs to a certain species of teenager: strong-willed, independent, relatively mature, and resentful of a parent’s hand, in anything he does.
On the other hand, perhaps because of my older autistic son’s dependence on structure, unschooling has not worked especially well. Given nothing to do, he would choose exactly that. To do nothing (academic, that is.)
Yoga and meditation is another outlook/practice/philosophy that Earth Mothers often seem to indulge in. I have done yoga poses, off and on, since I first nabbed my mom’s Gloria Swanson yoga book in high school in the late seventies. But never have I enrolled in a course, or gone to a yoga den, or had a consistent yoga or meditation practice of my own. It was more of an aspirational goal, for fitness and flexibility. Which, alas, remains merely aspirational, since I have not reached it.
Like the other outlooks above, Yoga is a nature-inspired practice, an attempt to align the mind and body. Something that frankly never occurred to most of us stress monkeys coming of age in the eighties.
Environmentalist moms also share an ethic that puts them in tune with Nature and at odds with much of modern life. Considering the planet’s health as an aspect of one’s personal morality complicates matters considerably.
Keeping up with the Über-Moms
I entered this co-op crowd very “school-ish” in my ways. To this day, I still try to document everything. Leftover lawyer habits, I guess.
But I found that instead of experiencing the feeling, that I wasn’t doing enough, academically, I felt a different sense of inadequacy. I felt that I was not a good enough (natural enough, Earthy enough) mother. No one ever said so to my face, but I gathered, from overheard comments and conversations that I was generationally lacking.
- I was too hands-off (Didn’t you carry your baby with you everywhere? Body heat is good for the baby!)
- I was too cold (How could you let your baby “cry it out” in the middle of the night? How cruel!)
- I was too selfish (You stopped nursing at one year? Studies show…)
- I was too rigid (How can you boss your children around by telling them which curriculum you’re using on them? You are robbing them of their autonomy. You are treating them as less than a human being!)
- I was unaware (How can you buy plastic water bottles? Don’t you know about the trash heap in the Pacific Ocean?)
- I was too uptight (Maybe you need to stretch? Or meditate?)
It was a little strange for me. And it certainly seemed like I, with my more traditional ways, was in the minority.
On the other hand, I have never been happier in a group of moms in my life.
The beauty of Earth Mothers is:
- Their children seem happy.
- Their children are definitely well fed.
- The parents seem fairly tolerant and open minded on most subjects.
- The parents are good-natured.
- As long as you don’t criticize their beliefs, they are happy to co-exist.
So…I’m not sure I was completely successful in escaping the necessity of signing a” Statement of Faith.”
I suppose at our co-op, there may well be an unwritten one, which I have unwittingly subscribed to:
- I believe in tolerance and acceptance and inclusion.
- I believe in peaceful coexistence.
- I believe in a multitude of educating and learning styles, each of equal value, if implemented well.
- I believe in loving our children and allowing them to grow up unimpeded by bullying, hatred, or excessive pressure.
- I believe in a sharing, supportive community.
It works for me. I may not be a full-fledged Earth Mother, but I don’t mind hanging around with them, if they’ll take me.
I can’t think of better soil for young sprouts to grow in.
For another essay on what its like to be part of a homeschooling co-op, read The Joys of Co-op.