I didn't begin my unschooling life as a single parent, but I became one three years ago. Prior to getting divorced, I didn't need to work. My kids' dad brought home a regular paycheck, and I got to be a full time, stay at home mom. As we moved through mediation, custody, and child support orders, it became clear that I was going to need to find a job. We had always unschooled, and I hadn't had to work since they were toddlers. I panicked. We lived rurally. I couldn't afford a regular babysitter. I was stumped as to how in the world I was going to find work that would allow me to continue raising my kids without school.
I had worked in restaurants, I had been an elementary school teacher, it's not like I couldn't go out and find a job. It's just that I knew I was unwilling to send my kids to school because I needed day care. I was so clear that unschooling and being home with my kids was my top priority, I just knew that something would materialize. And gradually, it did.
In the three and a half years since I began juggling unschooling and single parenting, I have earned money in several different ways. For a while I job shared a part time teaching position leading hikes for school kids. In order to do this I traded child care with other moms. It worked for a while and then we got burnt out. The kids got tired of being shuttled around one or two days a week and I got tired of trying to inspire large homogeneous groups of school kids to love the outdoors. For a while I worked in a restaurant. I was able to work shifts that coincided with the days the kids were at their dad's house and only needed to do child care trades every once in a while. Then I taught classes at the local homeschool support center in our town. I taught a few hours a week while my kids took classes. None of these jobs lasted very long. Each job took me away from my home and away from my number one priority: my children.
Eventually I was able to find work that I can do at home, without needing childcare. Although the money isn't always consistent and there are loads of times when I wonder how in the world we are going to get through the month, knowing that I am home and available to my kids makes it worthwhile. Less work means less money, of course. As I was going from job to job and doing the major soul searching that goes with divorce, I realized that in putting unschooling at the top of my priority list, I was choosing not to use my degree and my potential for working 40 hours and earning a decent salary. With this decision came major lifestyle changes. I learned that there are lots of federal and state programs available to lower income families. I learned that there is no shame in receiving food stamps. I learned that we can live on far less income than I ever thought possible.
Now that we have been doing life this way for quite a while, I can't imagine it any other way. Unschooling doesn't add any additional expense to our lives. We live simply. We make most things from scratch. We reuse and recycle as much as possible. We shop at thrift stores and trade with friends. When there is extra money we do extra things. Mostly, it just works. I have moments when it all feels like too much and shipping them off to school sounds like a fabulous idea. But really, when it comes down to it, I love our time together. It is intense and creative and open ended and fun. It is also incredibly challenging. I wouldn't change a thing.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 11, Macy, 9 and Charley, 6) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a Homeschooling Consultant, offering support and guidance to families looking to clarify their vision as a family of learners. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at homeschoolconsultant@gmailcom.