Do-It-(All)-Yourself Parents

By Perlstein, Linda | Newsweek, February 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

Do-It-(All)-Yourself Parents


Perlstein, Linda, Newsweek


Byline: Linda Perlstein

They raise chickens. They grow vegetables. They knit. Now a new generation of urban parents is even teaching their own kids.

In the beginning, your kids need you--a lot. They're attached to your hip, all the time. It might be a month. It might be five years. Then suddenly you are expected to send them off to school for seven hours a day, where they'll have to cope with life in ways they never had to before. You no longer control what they learn, or how, or with whom.

Unless you decide, like an emerging population of parents in cities across the country, to forgo that age-old rite of passage entirely.

When Tera and Eric Schreiber's oldest child was about to start kindergarten, the couple toured the high-achieving public elementary school a block away from their home in an affluent Seattle neighborhood near the University of Washington. It was "a great neighborhood school," Tera says. They also applied to a private school, and Daisy was accepted. But in the end they chose a third path: no school at all.

Eric, 38, is a manager at Microsoft. Tera, 39, had already traded a career as a lawyer for one as a nonprofit executive, which allowed her more time with her kids. But "more" turned into "all" when she decided that instead of working, she would homeschool her daughters: Daisy, now 9; Ginger, 7; and Violet, 4.

We think of homeschoolers as evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside. And it's true that most homeschooling parents do so for moral or religious reasons. But education observers believe that is changing. You only have to go to a downtown Star-bucks or art museum in the middle of a weekday to see that a once-unconventional choice "has become newly fashionable," says Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford professor who wrote Kingdom of Children, a history of homeschooling. There are an estimated 300,000 homeschooled children in America's cities, many of them children of secular, highly educated professionals who always figured they'd send their kids to school--until they came to think, Hey, maybe we could do better.

When Laurie Block Spigel, a homeschooling consultant, pulled her kids out of school in New York in the mid-1990s, "I had some of my closest friends and relatives telling me I was ruining my children's lives." Now, she says, "the parents that I meet aren't afraid to talk about it. They're doing this proudly."

Many of these parents feel that city schools--or any schools--don't provide the kind of education they want for their kids. Just as much, though, their choice to homeschool is a more extreme example of a larger modern parenting ethos: that children are individuals, each deserving a uniquely curated upbringing. That peer influence can be noxious. (Bullying is no longer seen as a harmless rite of passage.) That DIY--be it gardening, knitting, or raising chickens--is something educated urbanites should embrace. That we might create a sense of security in our kids by practicing "attachment parenting," an increasingly popular approach that involves round-the-clock physical contact with children and immediate responses to all their cues.

Even many attachment adherents, though, may have trouble envisioning spending almost all their time with their kids--for 18 years! For Tera Schreiber, it was a natural transition. When you have kept your kids so close, literally--she breast-fed her youngest till Violet was 4--it can be a shock to send them away.

Tera's kids didn't particularly enjoy day care or preschool. The Schreibers wanted a "gentler system" for Daisy; she was a perfectionist who they thought might worry too much about measuring up. They knew homeschooling families in their neighborhood and envied their easygoing pace and flexibility--late bedtimes, vacations when everyone else is at school or work. Above all, they wanted to preserve, for as long as possible, a certain approach to family. …

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