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Home Is Where the School Is

Home Is Where the School Is: The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering

Jennifer Lois
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 239
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  • Book Info
    Home Is Where the School Is
    Book Description:

    Mothers who homeschool their children constantly face judgmental questions about their choices, and yet the homeschooling movement continues to grow with an estimated 1.5 million American children now schooled at home. These children are largely taught by stay-at-home mothers who find that they must tightly manage their daily schedules to avoid burnout and maximize their relationships with their children, and that they must sustain a desire to sacrifice their independent selves for many years in order to savor the experience of motherhood.Home Is Where the School Is is the first comprehensive look into the lives of homeschooling mothers. Drawing on rich data collected through eight years of fieldwork and dozens of in-depth interviews, Jennifer Lois examines the intense effects of the emotional and temporal demands that homeschooling places on mothers' lives, raising profound questions about the expectations of modern motherhood and the limits of parenting.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8943-8
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    More than 1.5 million children in the United States are homeschooled. This number, a conservative estimate, represents 2.9 percent of the schoolage population¹ and is up significantly from the mid-1980s, when the U.S. Department of Education estimated that fewer than 300,000 American children were homeschooled.² Since 1993, every state has provided a legal option for parents to educate their children at home,³ and although homeschoolers have gained legal legitimacy and visibility with their growing numbers, they have yet to secure mainstream acceptance. Homeschooling is widely misunderstood by the non-homeschooling public, and homeschooling parents themselves feel the stigma sharply each time...

  5. 1 Homeschooling Mothers
    (pp. 23-40)

    Because PATH served as a support group for more than 600 member families and its events were open to the public, I attended my first meeting assuming I would lurk anonymously to get a feel for the issues homeschoolers faced. But when I arrived and saw only a few dozen chairs set in a circle in the middle of the gymnasium, and a like number of people milling about, I knew I was not simply going to blend into the background.

    At 7:00 p.m., the moderator and longtime PATH president, Charlie Cooper, herded the group, mostly mothers, toward the circle...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 41-44)

      There is a substantial body of research covering many aspects of mothering in the contemporary United States. Some of the main findings with regard to mothers’ emotions are important to lay out now, since they provide a framework to understand homeschoolers’ experiences and their identities as mothers.

      To trace the many contours of the mothering experience, we must give systematic attention to mothers’ emotions, both the emotions we think good mothers should feel and those they actually do. A useful concept for understanding these socially constructed ideas is “emotional culture,” which refers to a shared set of beliefs about emotions,...

    • 2 Coming to a Decision: First- and Second-Choice Homeschoolers
      (pp. 45-68)

      The vast majority of homeschoolers are stay-at-home mothers in two-parent, heterosexual families with a husband supporting the family in the paid labor force. That is not to say that homeschooling is impossible when a mother works, when a father is in charge of the children’s education, or in single-parent families—indeed, homeschooling happens in all types of family configurations—but because homeschooling takes an extraordinary amount of time and attention, it is much easier to accomplish when the labor is divided so that one parent can be devoted to it full-time. Because mothers are much more likely than fathers to...

    • 3 Defending Good-Mother Identities: The Homeschooling Stigma
      (pp. 69-88)

      Non-homeschooling strangers, friends, and family members, whom I have called “outsiders,” frequently criticized homeschoolers for keeping their children out of conventional schools, often implying—and sometimes stating outright—that they were irresponsible mothers for doing so. The criticism was constant, and over time homeschoolers became adept at defending their parenting choices and fighting the stigma of homeschooling.

      Commonly understood, a stigma is a negative label applied to people who have broken a social norm, suggesting they are somehow inferior or immoral for deviating from society’s rules. Sociologists’ view of stigma, however, is slightly more nuanced because of our perspective that...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 89-92)

      In the previous chapters, I explained how the emotional culture of intensive mothering affected homeschoolers’ lives dramatically. The beliefs about how mothers should feel, along with how they should demonstrate their commitment to their children, drove homeschoolers to extend their commitment to stay-at-home motherhood for an additional twelve years. In addition, I showed how homeschoolers actively drew on the ideology of intensive mothering to justify their decision to homeschool, neutralize outsiders’ criticism of their emotional deviance, and maintain their identities as good mothers.

      As I explored the emotional culture of homeschooling motherhood further, I discovered that the issue of time...

    • 4 Adding the Teacher Role: Domestic Labor and Burnout
      (pp. 93-113)

      The way household labor is divided in most families disproportionally taxes mothers, affects their time greatly, and influences their feelings about their husbands and families. Not only do mothers do more work than fathers in the majority of heterosexual, intact families with children, but they are more likely than fathers to become run-down and emotionally drained.¹ The mothers I studied reported that homeschooling added so much extra work to their already busy lives that it often pushed them into “homeschool burnout.”

      Burnout is an emotional and temporal phenomenon: it occurs over time, when people deplete their emotional resources more quickly...

    • 5 Losing Me-Time: The Temporal Emotion Work of Motherhood
      (pp. 114-130)

      So far, I have examined mothers’ time in a variety of ways. When the mothers I studied talked about the emotional difficulties of homeschooling, time was almost always implicated in some way. When they were stressed about their children’s lack of progress, it was often because they measured it against their temporal expectations, for example, as when Whitney worried that there was “no way” her son was going to complete his math book by the end of the traditional school year. When mothers became overwhelmed by the increased domestic load, it was because they did not feel they had enough...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 131-132)

      The twenty-four interviews from 2002 illuminated many ways that the emotional and temporal aspects of homeschooling affected mothers’ experiences. However, I wondered how mothers fared over time: How did emotions, time, and other factors affect their commitment to homeschooling throughout the years? And how did these factors influence their identities as mothers? To answer these questions, I reinterviewed sixteen of the original mothers in 2008–9, six to seven years after their initial interviews.¹

      Assessing mothers’ commitment to homeschooling at the time of the second interview was not as simple as establishing who had homeschooled their children through the age...

    • 6 Looking Back: The Homeschooling Journey
      (pp. 133-150)

      Before I present mothers’ follow-up stories, it is important to explain how the local homeschooling culture changed in the interim between the two interviews. As I mentioned in the introduction, most public schools in our county had established Parent-School Partnership (PSP) programs by 2008, in which the district provided a certified teacher to act as an academic adviser/facilitator for families, serve as a liaison between them and the school district, and organize an offering of classes for homeschooled students. Several of my interviewees had utilized these programs, and they invariably reported that it made their experiences more manageable because they...

    • 7 Taking Stock of the Present: Perceptions of Success
      (pp. 151-165)

      The previous chapter presented mothers’ look back on their homeschooling journey and discussed some of the struggles they encountered along the way. This chapter focuses on the second of my three purposes in conducting the follow-up interviews in 2008–9: to ask mothers to take stock of the present—where were they now? Because so many early-career homeschoolers had expressed insecurity in the first interviews, I wanted to ask in the follow-ups whether they thought homeschooling had worked for their children. Some mothers were quite certain about their answers, often because they had finished with some children or were nearing...

    • 8 Looking Forward: Empty Desks, Empty Nests
      (pp. 166-179)

      In 2002, mothers talked a great deal about how labor-intensive homeschooling was and how it sapped them of any time for themselves. Although they often wished for a lighter domestic load and time to themselves, over the years I also heard many mothers express anxiety about the direction their lives would take at the end of their homeschooling careers. At one PATH meeting, for example, a mother said she had felt like “a ship without a rudder” since her last child had gone off to community college. Thus, in 2008–9 I made it a point to ask mothers about...

    • 9 Savoring Motherhood
      (pp. 180-194)

      Throughout this book, I have explored the experiences of homeschooling mothers. I have examined how mothers made decisions to homeschool, responded to outsider criticism, handled the increased domestic labor, dealt with losing me-time, understood their journey in retrospect, viewed their children’s successes, and planned for the future. Several themes have run throughout the course of this study: the self and identity, emotional culture, and the temporal dimensions of mothering. Some of these themes intersect, and I turn now to analyze these intersections theoretically.

      Emotions such as guilt, resentment, frustration, pride, joy, and love are central to the experience of intensive...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 195-216)
    (pp. 217-224)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 225-228)
    (pp. 229-229)