Can a Single Parent Unschool?

This question is asked occasionally, and here is a detailed answer by Katy Jennings, the single parent of Richard. Katy lives in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and is a Laboratory Technologist. She was responding to the indented, boldface comments on September 18, 2009

I don't agree. If income and sleep become too deprived, no one is going to be learning anything as a person can't function properly without enough of either, especially sleep. There won't be much happiness if mommy is always a zombie and stressed about money
I am coming to this a little late, as Richard and I had coupons to see any movie at our local theaters for a dollar, so we have been kind of movie crazy for the last few days. I also was unsure if I wanted to contribute to this discussion. The zombie comment made me want to!

I am a single parent, always have been. Richard is turning 14 in November, and has never been to school. We have always unschooled, with a few hiccups in the very beginning.

Being a single parent is hard. Unschooling as a single parent is extremely hard. Unschooling WELL as a single parent is unbelievably ridiculously hard.

Sleep, financial worries, friendships, etc all DO have to take a backseat to your children! Your children are most important, and while yes, of course we all have to sleep, as a single parent you will be sleep deprived. As an unschooling single parent even more so.

There won't be much happiness if mommy is always a zombie and stressed about money
That is that 'if mamma aint happy, aint nobody happy' way of thinking.

I have learned that the best way to make me happy, is to make my child happy! If you are used to a traditional mindset, then that sounds odd and unbelievable. But when you start doing it, you see that making your children happy really does affect your happiness. It works.

I have worked extremely hard to make sure that my activities (work, college and work when Richard was little) did not interfere too much with Richard's happiness. Even though he was a pretty independent kid, he needed me there to be his mom. I did homework or took a nap or did dishes or whatever while he napped and played with him while he was awake. I stayed up very late to finish homework or study after he fell asleep. I had family take care of him when I could. We were living with my mom until just a few years ago, that helped a lot. We did have a few years of daycare, that was hard and I regret it. I tried to find a childcare home that was sweet and loving, but it kind of backfired. The lady wasn't so sweet and loving when I was gone. I found one that really was great in the end, and Richard would go to her house and help her with the younger kids and play in the mornings. He liked it and went for a year or so, just in the mornings while I slept.

As far as financial worries, there are lots of free or discounted things to do with kids, and things most people find critical I just do not. We do not have cable, we do not have internet (we are lucky that my mom, right next door, does, if she did not I could go to the library), I drive a very old car that I got for free, before that I drove an old truck that I bought pretty cheaply, we have cell phones but no home phone. I would love to re-do my bathrooms, get a new fridge (mine freezes my food, and it is turned down all of the way), replace the leaking kitchen sink, but I have more important things to spend money on right now (Richard, in case that wasn't obvious!)

What has worked for us for quite a while is this. I work three nights a week, I sleep very little on the nights that I work, and I hang out with him as much as possible before I go in and do lots cool things with him on my days off.

Three years ago I bought the house next door to my mom's. Probably spent too much for it but it was so worth it to have my mom right next door. Richard still goes to her house to sleep on the nights that I work. I make them dinner before I go in, and make sure he has plenty of snacks and drinks for the night. We used to always eat dinner together before I went to work, but now he usually goes to TaeKwonDo. He is a junior instructor there and my neice is a certified instructor, so she usually picks him up and they spend the evening there 2 of the nights that I work. After class they grab some fast food, or Richard goes to her house, or her to mine, or sometimes she just drops him off.

Richard is a night owl, so he likes to stay up and play Xbox or get on my mom's computer or play Lego or play board games if my neices are over or whatever. I have my cell phone with me always, and he calls me often throughout the night.

I hate being away from him that much. I couldn't do it if I didn't have family here that is willing to help. My brother and his wife and kids are wonderful. My mom has always been a huge help, and she and Richard have a much better relationship than I had with her when I was younger.

My house is usually a mess, because I spend as much time on my 4 days off doing stuff with Richard. I clean when he has friends over, or when he is busy playing xbox, or sometimes he comes to help me, and I have learned lots of tricks to try and keep it cleaner so we spend less time on housework and more time on what is important, spending time with my son!

Here is a picture of our week so far. It is not ideal, but we make it fun.

Sunday: We both slept very late, got up and made breakfast/lunch at my mom's house. Richard had friends come over to our house to play xbox. I talked to my mom a while, my step-dad passed away last year and she gets very lonely on the weekends. I checked on the boys often, made them snacks, asked about their game, etc. Then I got ready for work and headed there about 6. Richard continued to play xbox, ate dinner with my mom, and built with lego for most of the night.

Monday: I got off of work late, about 8am. Came home and went straight to sleep after checking on Richard at my mom's. Woke about 1, Richard was just getting up too. We talked, ate, he talked to me while I ironed his TKD uniform, we watched some TV together, at 4 my niece picked him up to take him to TKD. I did the dishes, showered and went to work at 6. After TKD Richard hung out with my niece then played xbox most of the night.

Tuesday: Mostly the same as Monday, except I got off on time, 7, and that evening Richard had received his Brickarms order (customized lego type weapons), so after TKD he messed with those and worked on his lego Ghillie suit he is designing.

Wednesday: I got off at 7, checked on Richard and then slept until 1:30. We had dollar movie coupons, so I woke him and we took off to the 2:30 movie(Final Destination). After the movie we came home, ate leftover beans, rice, and homemade chiles rellenos, then went up to the hospital where I work to give a coworker a check for cookie dough I ordered from her son, everyone ooohed and aaahed over how tall Richard has gotten (almost 6 feet!), and then tried to head off to the movies again. It was pouring and flash flooding had closed numerous roads, so we took my little 30 year old junky car home and borrowed my mom's 4 wheel drive and picked some safe roads to get to the movie theater. We stayed for 2 more movies (District 9 and GI Joe), at a dollar a piece you make the most of it! Then we came home, ate macaroni and cheese and zucchini, read some and went to sleep.

Thursday: Up at 4:30am and off to Las Cruces (a town about an hour away) at 5:30. We were sick when Halloween 2 (Rob Zombie version) was here in Alamo, and Richard REALLY wanted to see it (me too), so we went to Cruces where it was still playing. I don't feel safe driving my car out of town, so we rode with my brother who is in his last week of work in Las Cruces, (starting back at his old job in Alamo on Monday) and my mom. We hung out at my mom's office, talked to her coworkers, they gave Richard a run-down of what they do, then we headed off to the little space mural museum. That was bigger and neater than I thought (we live where there is a fairly large space museum, so I wasn't expecting much). Then we met my brother, mom, and one of her friends for lunch, ran to Kmart (because I had to use the bathroom and the theater wasn't open yet), and Richard found a Halo MegaBlocks set. He was REALLY excited, and just happened to have the perfect amount of money (he mows yards and stuff for spending money, also gets an allowance). After we bought that we went to the movie then went back to pick up my mom, she was having some crisis and so Richard learned much more about what she does for a living, then we picked up my brother, and headed home. Richard slept on the way back to Alamo. When we got home Richard and I helped my brother move a couch that his wife's aunt was giving them, then came home and Richard built his Halo tank that he had purchased while I read his Game Informer magazine. I was reading parts to him, and he decided that he really liked having me read it to him because I read parts that he usually skipped. I then read a book while he played next to me with his tank, and we went to bed around 2am. Long day.

Friday (today): We both slept very late. I got up first and took care of cat boxes, did a load of dishes and came to my mom's to use her internet to check my email and write this! Richard's best friend showed up just a little while ago, and right now they are playing with Lego. In a few minutes I am going to go home take the boys snacks, clean the kitchen, make dinner, and tonight we will probably stay in, maybe play some board games or watch tv. Richard's friend will probably stay for dinner and maybe the night, because there is a big biker rally in Ruidoso that his parents will be at. He is 17 and could stay by himself, but he often stays with us.

Saturday: Unknown, but will probably head to the farmers market, to White Sands to see the hot air balloons since the balloon festival is this weekend and then we may head up to Ruidoso. We will see.

It was not a typical week, since we had those movie tickets that were only good for 2 days, but then again most weeks aren't typical. I try to take him to cool places, or ordinary places that we don't go often, or places that are foreign to us at least once or twice a week. I look for things he will enjoy, and just try to make his life fun and interesting. It is not his fault I am a single parent, and he shouldn't have to suffer for it. I think our life is good, and I am so glad to have found unschooling. You can make it work as a single parent, but you have to let go of all of the entitlement type thinking and really work hard to give your kids a full and happy life. You can rest when they are gone!

Sorry this was so long. I know most people don't read long posts.

Katy J.
Katy has a blog: http://katyjennings.blogspot.com/ 2012 note: The blog has gone quiet, but you can see photos and some older posts there.

The full discussion was on the Always Learning list in September, 2009.
You might need to be a member to see it, but click here to read it in context.


Joyce Fetteroll, responses to questions in 2012:

There are some single mothers unschooling. But just being single and wanting to unschool isn't enough. Those who can do it have ways or have found ways to do what they need to continue unschooling. Those who couldn't, have done something else.

The desire to unschool doesn't grant someone a magic wand to make obstacles disappear. Those who unschool have found solutions to the obstacles. Each story will be unique. They may be able to live with a parent or friend. They may have Social Security or other benefits. They may have a job that pays well enough. They may have a support system to care for their children when they're working.

And, obviously, single moms have less time to be online so they aren't here talking about it much.

Perhaps there's a job you can do with your daughter, such as running a small day care. Being a live-in nanny.

" im just really sad to be missing conferences and wondered how anyone else deals with the disappointment of that"
It sounds like conferences may be some kind of escape from real world problems for you. But they're a lot of money for something that doesn't fix problems in your real world. They're very expensive bandaids over festering wounds. That doesn't seem a useful direction for your energy at the moment.

It sounds like you need a plan. You're spending so much time unschooling you're not making time to find ways to make unschooling work. And I suspect your lack of confidence in being able to do it, is drawing attacks from others who sense your doubt which is making it more difficult. Can you avoid these people? Can you project more confidence so they don't sense your weakness?

"While I'm sure we can have a life of learning while working and going to school, i dont feel it would be a happy one and fear us growing apart."
Unschooling shouldn't be a goal. It's a vehicle that's well suited for getting to particular goals. Some of those goals are joyful living, whole children, learning through interests ...

Unschooling isn't the only vehicle that can get to those goals. And those aren't the only goals.

If using a vehicle is causing damage that you can't figure out how to prevent, it's better to switch vehicles. If getting to a goal is causing damage that you can't figure out how to prevent, it's better to switch goals. At least until you can figure out how to make getting there work.

Unschooling is a vehicle that needs a great deal of support. Its big advantage is it has few side effects.

Without the support, it may be easier to put the energy into easing the side effects of some other vehicle. It may be easier to reconnect after school and make up for some of the bad effects than to unschool in a box beneath a freeway overpass. I think Sandra gave you a link to her School Choice page: http://sandradodd.com/schoolchoice

The biggest damage from school is because kids don't have a choice. And kids don't have a choice often because their parents believe it's the only route that will keep them from cashier at Wal-mart being their only career option. If you don't believe that, then there's a big chunk of school damage you won't be inflicting.

Choosing school doesn't need to be a forever choice. It might be for 6 months. Or a year.

Maybe with a job you'll be able to shop around to schools with your daughter to find one that she wants to try. If she knows she can switch, she'll feel less trapped. If you keep her in the loop about how you're working towards unschooling, or working towards something better, she'll fell less powerless.

What are your goals? If you can't have the ideal, find "better." What's the minimum your daughter needs to be happy? Begin building from there.

Joyce


Help for new unschoolers Strewing Building an Unschooling Nest