One of my new goals in all this self searching I have been doing is to move toward financial independence. I currently depend upon my husband to provide all of our family's financial needs while I remain at home house-wiving, homeschooling, doing all I can do alone on our homestead, and working on side projects. It is hard for me at times to have to think about the fact that I am spending another person's hard earned money when I want to buy a gift for my girls, or something I don't particularly need, but want. We also have to make a lot of personal sacrifices in order to make sure bills are paid and we are all fed well and kept healthy. For example, I currently have two pairs of pants that fit me the way they should and don't completely fall from my body if I take my belt off. I'm rarely out of the house, so I make do.
In looking at my options for work alongside my hopes and dreams, then factoring in what I'm actually capable of doing with little to no childcare, I can't help but think of how things have changed since my childhood. My parents had readily available free childcare from my grandparents, great grandparents, and aunts and uncles. We really were raised in a village it seems and if I am honest, I don't know what would have came of us if we hadn't been. I have very little time that is not consumed by raising my children. I'm their primary caregiver, as it should be, but there is little time to be with friends, adult conversations with a real person, or to hold a job outside of the home because my daughters' grandparents aren't able to provide daily childcare (as most of them are still working full time jobs passed retirement age) and we cannot afford a paid sitter.
Another thing I noticed as a child was how completely absorbed the adults around me were in financial concerns. Did we have enough money? While I'm concerned with our family's finances and I have a clear picture of what I'd like for us in terms of lifestyle and how effectively our money is spent, I let go of most of the worry around the amount we have available. Yet, recently, I began to see the need for me to have earnings of my own more than I ever have. While it should not be the case that money brings power to a voice, I have come to realize that it does, even within many family structures. Traditional roles of womanhood and motherhood are truly outdated if we desire to be seen as peers with our male counterparts. Tradition is not always a good thing as many are informed by outdated ways of thinking and viewing the world. I feel a movement away from these traditions and to a more balanced way of being is in order.
Southeastern Kentucky, where I reside, is once again in the midst of an outward migration of people. I see quite a bit on Facebook that friends and family are planning moves outside of the region to Tennessee and Ohio most often. Our family's choice to remain in the mountains is a big one. It is in many ways a sacrifice of opportunities for ourselves and our children. However, as we currently see things, there is much to be gained by staying and trying to create our own way of life in the region. This will always be home to us who were born and raised here. It is as integral to who we are as our heart or mind. The truth is, those who stay here will have to depend on themselves and their community to develop a sustainable life post coal in the mountains.
I don't know if my current plan will result in financial independence for me, but I will have a little pocket change I hope. My plan is to make myself available as an editor to anyone requiring those services. I'm working with one client in California at the moment. I'm teaching yoga one evening a week, and I am offering my services as a writer/blogger to interested parties. It blends my passions with what I am capable of doing while still very much within a traditional role in my family as a full time mother. My success will depend a lot on my ability to market myself within the region, but also outside of it.
My dilemma is not unlike the one that residents of southeastern Kentucky are facing now and for the future. As more coal jobs are lost and our populations decline, we are searching for ways to make life here a possibility. The most common suggestions I've seen touted are tourism, farming, and manufacturing. A recent article from The Daily Yonder written by Tim Marema reported that populations of rural counties in all states who relied on these economic replacements have all lost population since the Great Recession. The only counties seeing growth were recreation counties and those only grew by 1.4%. For counties like the one I live in and those directly around us, any of these replacements would be difficult because of a lack of infrastructure and our location away from most major interstates.
As I have diversified my possibilities of earning for myself and my daughters without a typical hired position, I believe the region will only survive from a diversified approach that utilizes the internet and technology to reach populations outside of the region. We will have to put our unique stamp on what we do to attract people in and make a visit worth the effort to get here. We will also have to accept that our lifestyles may look very different from the ones we see away from here because it has to and living here is a choice.
I may have bitten off more than I can chew with my hopes of financial independence while still choosing full time mothering and homeschooling. I have no way of knowing without trying. Trying is the only thing to do. I want to show my daughters a world of possibilities in a reality of limited options. I can't help but see that it parallels the consciousness we are striving to get to in our region. Moving past the realization that what is currently taking place is unacceptable and in spite of our realities there is a world of possibilities. We have to do the work and imagine them. We have to really try.
No, I'm talking my basic personhood. I've taken detours and received certifications, a Master's Degree, and pursued side interests in hopes of making money that would allow my husband to not have to work so hard and free him to be with us more, but nothing that I felt spoke to the real me or allowed me to be fully myself in this world. When the girls were born, I took their education upon my shoulders because I felt there was no other good option here at home. To provide them with what I felt they deserved and to fulfill my responsibility to them in bringing them into the world, I gladly took on the traditional role of wife, mother, and homeschooler. While my husband took on the pressure of providing for us solely on his income, he was still free to pursue his goals in art and music.
Is being an adult claiming responsibility? As a kid, I had always been told this. Adulthood is about sacrifice and responsibility. I don't know though. It may just be my family's makeup, but I can't remember many adults around me that would have said they were leading a life that made them happy or that made them feel fulfilled. I saw sorrow, depression, heartache, and anger written on the faces of many of the adults who loved me so very much. It covered my world. Am I selfish in thinking it doesn't have to be that way?
My main goal is to show my daughters that the world is wide open for us. There is no role we can't accept or value we have to feel pressured to espouse. It is about following our heart and going forward from a place of love and respect for others. All else is a coin toss, and the odds of us winning are perfect as we are infinitely supported by the very stardust we were created from.
An independent, strong minded woman makes people nervous. A woman that seeks her own fulfillment so that her light can shine as brightly as possible in this world, can expect to be seen as scandalous. She may not fit in any box set out by society. She may take risks others see as unnecessary. It may be hard for those who feel the need to fit her into a category to be with her as she steps into this empowered place. The fact is, she isn't going to care. What she knows is that if you love her and want her, you will walk by her through all of it. If you cannot, it is okay. Both you and she will be okay.
It isn't about living in the shadows of another. In this mountain culture I've grown up in, the matriarchy is a hidden power. There isn't a person on this planet any stronger than an Appalachian woman. They've held families together for generations of rises and falls. Through all of this, she quietly worried that her best wasn't enough and it would all fall through her fingers. While all of her family knew it was really her that bound them all together, her effort wasn't pronounced except maybe at her funeral.
I pray that my daughters don't take a lifetime to learn that they can speak up about what they need and not feel guilty for needing it. I want them to know that if their current situation is not making their heart sing that patience, a fearless heart, hard work, and their empowered voice will change that. They aren't obligated to anyone but those who they choose to be obligated to and those who call them mother. I want them to be brave. I want them to know they are worthy of the type of love that wants the essence of them so hard, their every breath is like a song, and that when they give that kind of love, they should expect it returned to them.
Our lives matter right now. I've decided for the sake of myself and my daughters not to wait for mine to begin anymore. I'm surrounding myself with the people who feed my spirit and want to know me for me. I'm talking consistently with those who already have shown me that they do. I've went out on a limb and decided to return to the game plan of my youth modified for what I know now. I'm excited. One day, I will be able to type here that I am healthy, happy, and fulfilled most every day. It's coming.
There, at the top of the world, as I took deep breaths crouched over that ageless rock, the coin was tossed. The butterflies in my stomach set free for a time and I felt whole again in the silence. One day, my Ivy will know what she's capable of because her mother did her best to show her. It might not come easy to either of us, but she will know.
It is inevitable that by writing this piece I'll tick someone off, or incite them to explain their position as to why they don't believe homeschooling is a responsible choice. It is also very probable in just mentioning that I homeschool and have done so since my oldest began her educational journey, that someone will say to me that they wish they could do that or could've done that, or that they commend me for doing it because there is no way on earth they would want to manage that. Thank God for public school - right!? We should all be thankful for that option.
I'm working on an article about making the choice to homeschool in southeastern Kentucky where the public schools are losing enrollments by the thousands. It has made me once again deeply look at my choice to go that route. It has the potential to be controversial. Simply going to the grocery store with a few school aged kids during school hours can be enough to get some stares. I'm writing this anyway. In my experience, what I'm about to reveal about our day to day is the truth of choosing to homeschool. It's important that we aren't kept in the dark about our individual experiences with choosing the education that is right for our families.
I'm a former public school teacher. I taught in a rural farming community in north central Kentucky for four years before having a child of my own. It was an amazing experience. I earned a Master's Degree in Teaching during that time period. I also made some friends who I still communicate with today mostly through social media. Despite the hard work and about $30,000 in loans to go toward graduate education, I could not make the choice to remain in public education after having children of my own. One of the hardest things I have ever done is to reveal to my principal, whom I liked very much, that I wouldn't be returning the following year after my daughter's birth.
The decision to not put my children in public education was one I had made long before becoming a mother. My husband was always in full agreement. That decision is one in which I was extremely confident, maybe more so than any other decision in my life. Having my oldest now in 3rd grade/4th grade, I'm still very solidly there. Though, from time to time, my husband may hear me whisper, "I should just send them to school." In return, he looks at me cross-ways.
While living in the city of Louisville, we had the excellent opportunity to attend the Parent/Child classes at the Waldorf School. We would often talk of how to afford the tuition for one child, let alone if there were more. I had been the breadwinner up to that point while my husband finished graduate school. He was then completing a tattoo apprenticeship and we were living off of fumes. The next choice was to home educate, and when we moved back to the coalfields, away from the option of Waldorf schooling, that was the only choice for us.
If you aren't familiar with the Waldorf educational philosophy, I will sum it up in two words - soulfully beautiful. I cried real tears when we toured the campus of the Waldorf School of Louisville for the first time. Hoping to recreate this in my home, I dove head first into the ideal. My daughter (then, the only one) would not eat many sweets. She would not have plastic, meaningless toys. She would be surrounded in clean, simple beauty. She would not be exposed to media through television or video games. And, I'd be a Waldorf purist. We did OK for the first few years of her life.
Having a second child and moving close to family, where there wasn't a Waldorf community and more influences outside our nuclear family were upon us, things changed a little. I grew as a mother. I opened more to the possibility of my own family culture. One still very based in Waldorf philosophy, but one that worked for our lifestyle. We had a lovely preschool experience.
Then, it became time to introduce "real" schoolwork. I also got a longing to add some outside work to my schedule and earn a little extra green. I wanted to maintain my daughters' sense of wonder. I wanted them to be excited by learning and to enjoy "school time". There was so much that I knew we'd be safe from. Yet, when I became intimidated by actually carrying out a Waldorf grades method and switched to the Charlotte Mason method, the first step in my realization of what homeschooling meant was revealed. This was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. Could I maintain this choice, and still be a person? I was so glad to be fully responsible for their education. I believe it is my right and duty as their mother to hold no one else responsible for it but my husband and I. But, this meant I had to give it my all and do it well all the time. The overarching theme of my life was going to be mother, teacher, and wife. The dreams I had of exploring careers would be on hold. My time to have a hobby - reduced. I'd need to learn to be consistent, less spontaneous, and well planned.
It is incredibly hard to maintain a household, tend younger children, and make sure that the school aged children (who are in two different grades) complete their lessons. We are still in elementary grades, so home educating them is very hands on. I still experience frustrated students. They still cry when they get confused during math. I still lose my cool and have to regroup, or just chalk my day up to a loss and vow to try my best come morning. Sometimes, I feel like a failure for weeks on end because there isn't time to clean the cabin the way I'd like. I'm too tired to call my grandmother whom I haven't seen in a year. I can't figure out why my wee one begins to tantrum right when I sit down for the lesson story with my middle daughter. I long for meaningful, adult conversations and to be able to spend whole days writing again.
People say that they wish they had the money to be able to stay home and homeschool. It isn't about having the money to do it. There are ways to make it work. Most homeschooling families I know work with a very limited budget. Mothers or fathers work long hours to try to make up for income lost by one or the other being at home. Or, the stay at home parent will work late shifts, or find work from home jobs that they tend to at night. We learn to live frugally. Many of us live in a way unfamiliar, but respectful of time and energy. We go without things like cable TV, data plans, vacations, multiple vehicles, new clothes, tons of presents at Christmas, and the newest electronics. Not saying this is better or awesome, but it is what we are willing to do in order to provide this education to our children. At the time we made the choice to homeschool, we gave up 75% of our income in order for me to stay home with our daughter. We made it work. If you believe in something and want it bad enough, you will make it work.
There are those moments when I know that what I'm doing is working. When I hear my toddler singing the Circle Time songs loud and clear. How she giggles at the motions. When my older two daughters run to greet their daddy and grab their main lesson books to show him what they did, proudly. The days when I see their deep thinking reflected in their play or their questions to me. How when they complete something difficult, all the whining becomes meaningless, and they say, "I think I really like doing..." And, sometimes, one of them will say, "I love homeschool." That's how I know it is working.
Last year, I jumped back in to committing to a Waldorf education for my daughters. It takes tons of commitment, planning, and willingness to let go. I found a homeschool Walorf curriculum that works really well for us (Waldorf Essentials), and the authors offer a support service and program called Thinking, Feeling, Willing that has helped me stay on track through all the ups and downs of the school year. I'm incredibly blessed by this program. We have joined a wonderful homeschool co-op that keeps me in tune with other local homeschool families, offers field trips, special classes, and time with peers. Even when I wake up feeling like I don't want to do lessons that day, I know I have support. I know that I can manage.
Our Waldorf inspired homeschool doesn't look like private Waldorf education, and every other Waldorf inspired homeschool will be different from ours. My girls watch some TV (commercial free), they have some commercial toys like My Little Pony, and they love to overindulge in sweets at their grandparents' houses. Shoot, mommy will even let them have a Sprite with their fries and burger from time to time. Sometimes (no, honestly, quite a bit), I wake up in a panic thinking that all of our little issues would be solved if I became purist once again. Then, I realize that if I let go just a little more, the issues wouldn't seem so huge.
The truth about homeschooling is that it is a choice that requires immense time, dedication, willingness to always be a learner yourself, to research and find the answers on your own, presence, and a strong will to see your family through the times that are tough. All sorts of families make the decision to homeschool for many different reasons. You can easily get the impression that we are all religious zealots, super strict, or our homeschools are picturesque. Even in my rural area, if you polled our homeschool co-op, you'd find that there is as much variety there as anywhere and we all get along. There is so much more I could say about homeschooling, making the decision, getting support, and the reasons why I made the choice. I've written this for those considering, in the midst and wondering if they are "doing it right", those who feel they cannot do it but want to, and those who feel we are doing a disservice to our communities. Don't underestimate us. There's a lot of fantasies around homeschooling. The truth is far richer.
When I became a mother for the first time, I was initiated very quickly into how difficult parenting can be. I had no idea prior to experiencing it firsthand. Now, having three children and working with mothers regularly, I can definitely say that it hasn't gotten easier. I believe that most parents would say the work of parenting is exhausting and emotionally draining. Yes, I said it. Parenting is not all laughter and sunshine. Admitting this seems to be very taboo in our culture, and parents who do admit it or ask for help can be made to feel guilty for feeling the heaviness of the calling of parenthood even by the most well meaning of people.
As a new mother and multiple times since, I have been given the phrase "this too shall pass" or some form thereof when reaching out for advice or solutions to real parenting issues. I have come to notice as a birth professional that many parents are also being given this phrase when reaching out on parenting forums, Facebook, or even in person. I have to confess. I, too, have said this to many mothers and fathers. However, as of today, I vow to not use this phrase any longer. I also will not remind parents that this stage is but a moment in their life and one day they may wish they had it back.
Why? I no longer believe it is appropriate. As well meaning as we might be when we offer this "consolation", in reality I think it is a cop-out for offering real commiseration, advice, or tangible help to parents who have braved the possibility of ridicule and embarrassment to publicly ask their community for assistance in this sacred calling. It is in a very real way another way of saying that right now - the feelings, the worry, the tiredness, the confusion - is not important, but trivial. That the immediacy and the ache of right now doesn't matter as much as the fact that it will pass. If they can just hang on, this stage will be over. Add to that the caveat that this parent may wish themselves back to this place as an older person, and you are inadvertently placing guilt upon the shoulders of a mother or father who is asking for support, help, or solutions. This guilt can grow into the fear of seeking out the experience or time of others in their parenting journey because somehow it means that they couldn't "let go" or "hang in there". Somehow, they have failed at that which others have come through as a rite of passage. I have come to believe that this response is actually a failure to those who are in the throes of parenthood, who have done exactly what they should have done in seeking our awareness of the state they are experiencing.
Parenting in our culture has become increasingly isolating. With nuclear families and very insular ways of being, we have lost the communities of loving related or close adults that were once involved in the raising of children. Here in Appalachia many of us grew up running the "hollers" all day long with siblings, cousins, and close family friends as each household of adults watched out for our well being. In a time, not so very long ago, we resided in multi-generational households where those retired and more experienced folks could lend a hand in child rearing. Now, parents are largely expected to go it alone as we have spread out and lost touch.
Mothers and fathers hold down jobs, keep their home repaired and cleaned, and raise children with not enough hours in the day. So many of them are giving from empty wells without the opportunity for the self care necessary to offer their very best at parenting or their work. This is failing our children. It is failing our society.
So, what can we do instead of offering the "hang in there" we have all offered to parents in all forms of distress.
I challenge everyone of us to no longer use the phrase "this too shall pass" in the context of sharing it with a parent who is hoping for tangible help. Instead, reach out with something that you can do to show them that you appreciate their effort in parenting the next generation. Acknowledge their effort, and congratulate their accomplishments.
For more information on what modern parenting can be like for many see - The Trauma of Parenthood by Eli J. Finkel in the NYTimes.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.