Perils of Homeschooling, AKA The Parable of the Popcorn

If a homeschooling mom tells you that homeschooling life is all peaches and cream all the time she’s lying.  Or taking something.  Or both.  It’s not all a pleasure cruise. More like a roller coaster, and you feel you can’t get off.

The thing is, being a homeschooling mom is like regular motherhood on steroids.  Mothers say they have a full time 24/7 job, and they do.  I know they do because I’ve been a mother for many, many years.  I was even a working mother.  But I’ve also been a homeschooling mom for many years, and I can promise that’s a whole new dimension of hard.  Not only is it 24/7, but on top of the feeding, snuggling, changing, manners policing, cleaning up after, tucking in, and ALL that motherhood entails, homeschooling moms also have the tasks of creatively and patiently teaching math and proper sentence structure with no sleep while nursing the baby.  Take a deep breath.

Some days I can’t do it.  And fairly often I simply retire.  I don’t even give my family 2 weeks notice; I just quit.  My husband’s lost count on the number of times I’ve retired.

But don’t fret.

I always come out of retirement, sometimes after a few minutes.  Or a few hours.  Sometimes it lasts a few days.  Once I even marched them down to our local PS.  Two days later they begged to come back and we hopped back on the homeschooling roller coaster.

But then I learned an important lesson from a batch of popcorn.

The Parable of The Popcorn

Popcorn enlightened me on some particular perils of homeschooling.  We like to tout all the benefits, but let’s get real, there are a few drawbacks to this homeschooling roller coaster we all got on.  Some time ago I convinced my husband that to prevent yet another retirement I needed a night out.  In general we didn’t get many babysitters, but we needed a babysitter.  A movie maybe.  Dinner at least.  So 14 year old Shelby from down the street came over to keep an eye on the kids, and we were off.  I can’t remember what we did that night, but the scene when we got home will forever be emblazoned on my memory.

Popcorn.  Popcorn everywhere.  We were assaulted by it.  Burned.  Black.  Bitter.  Why does the smell of burned popcorn linger forever?  The olfactory scarring made my nose twitch and my eyes water.

Shelby, what on earth?

My oldest, Tyler, always a convincing and overconfident fellow (even at age 8), assured Shelby that he knew how to pop popcorn on the stove.  Never mind the fact he had never popped popcorn in his life.  Never mind he had never used the stove in his life.  Yeah, and Shelby didn’t know what she was doing either.

Tyler’s Recipe For Popcorn

  1.  Put a pan on the stove and turn the flame up to HIGH.
  2. Skip the oil.  It’s not important.
  3. Pour 4-5 cups of popcorn in the bottom of the pan.  Yes, you read that right.  Cups.
  4. No lid.  Why would you need a lid?
  5. Wait 1-2 minutes.
  6. Run.  Run away.  Dodge the flying popcorn as you go, of course.

Every babysitter I’ve ever hired has been the victim of sabotage at the ruthless hands of my children.  Sorry Shelby.  And Stacey.  And Montana.  When I’m home everything is mostly under control.  When I leave, all bets are off.  Popcorn hurricanes are just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m not gonna lie, I’ve wondered whether it’s worth it to leave at all, but I’ve come to some conclusions.

Lessons I Learned From The Parable of The Popcorn

  1.  Mom-breaks are necessary.  They are worth putrid burned popcorn smell.  They are worth the pan you have to throw away because that black is never coming off.  It’s worth it to pay Shelby a little extra.  Oh, and they are worth finding popcorn in the chandelier.  You have to recognize and respect your limits.  Know yourself well enough to know when you need a break, and TAKE IT.  After our date night, I had built up the stamina to deal with the popcorn, but if I hadn’t taken a break when I knew I needed it, the consequences would have actually been far worse than a ruined pan and a popcorn mess.  I can deal with a popcorn mess, but I can’t deal with anything when I’m a mess.
  2.  Relinquishing control is okay.  I am involved in every spelling word and math problem.  Every green bean they must eat before dessert.  Every missing sock and handmade Valentine and book they are reading.  I keep us shipshape and running, and I am in control.  But it’s okay to step away and not be in control sometimes.  Furthermore, it’s okay for Shelby to be the boss, even if it’s kind of a new gig for her.  It’s okay if the popcorn gets burned.  It’s all going to be okay.  It’s actually a really good thing for everyone to shift the locus of control from time to time.  We all need to be adaptable.  My kids will not always be under my direct supervision.  They will make mistakes.  And practice making mistakes and going it alone is worthwhile.  On a life scale, burned popcorn is a small mistake.
  3. The homeschooling roller coaster is worth the ride.  Roller coasters are full of ups and downs, and I’m even a little afraid of them, but they are also lots of fun.  Sometimes you lose your stomach a little and sometimes you wonder why you got on in the first place.  But when you get off, even if you feel a bit sick, you also feel like you accomplished something, ya know?

While I can’t promise I’ll never retire again, I can say that these days my retirements are fewer and farther between.  And instead of jumping ship in the middle of the big scary hill, I wait it out until the ride is over, give myself a little planned break (burned popcorn smell and all), and then get back on the roller coaster, often even a bit eagerly.  The more times you ride, the less scary it becomes.

Fast forward a few years…not only can this kid pop popcorn like a pro, but he is responsible and hard working.  Plus, he’s big enough to tend his siblings and give me plenty of breaks when I need them.  The hard days of homeschooling have paid off now as I see my kids becoming bright, responsible, caring contributors to our family, their friends, and the world.

Give Yourself A Break Even If Things Aren’t Perfect When You Do

I’ve found it works better if you take the break before announcing retirement.  So before you wave the white flag and jump off the coaster, recognize that you are depleted and take a bit to relax and reset.  Here are a couple of things that work for me.

  • First, run down to the gas station for a hot cocoa even if you’ve got some in your pantry.  A 5 minute drive and the cost of a cup of hot cocoa = a small price to pay for sanity.
  • Give yourself a week off from school now and again to recharge.  You wouldn’t fail to put your phone on its charger.  So why do you fail to recharge yourself?
  • Wake up a few minutes early and a read a book just for fun, not a school one.  If it’s warm and you can read on the front porch, even better.
  • Take a ceramics class.  Or photography.  Or whatever you’re into.  Trade with another mom or go when your husband is home.  Find something that you can do for yourself.
  • Send your kids outside to play if you can.  Teach them to entertain themselves without you and without electronics or toys.  At first they won’t know what to go with themselves, but over time they’ll figure out that imaginations are powerful.  And once kids figure it out, imaginative play is the best break for moms.
  • Go to a gym and work out by yourself now and again.  Or just go for a walk, a jog, or a bike ride.
  • Write to your friend.  Like actually write a real letter with a stamp and everything.
  • Finally, plan a date night to look forward to and pay the babysitter.  Enjoy your dinner.  Watch the movie.  Trust the babysitter even though she’s not you.  PS – You might want to invest in a bag of microwave popcorn.



  1. this brought back the days of the whipped cream fiasco (don’t ask – it had to do with a REALLY hard day, a daughter who was also having a hard day, a hot apartment, talking back to mom, and a brand new spray can of whipped cream!) Let’s just say that had I taken a break FIRST and my daughter taken a break FIRST – that there might not have been a fiasco – and I might not have had to spend hours scouring the apartment!

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