Jason’s first foray into homeschool meet-and-greets started off well enough. Sure, these were strangers his wife had found on Facebook, but his daughter was having fun and socializing with other kids — and that’s what mattered most.
But as the 39-year-old sat in a plushy Texas living room, he noticed he was the only dad there. Not a big deal, he thought, this was just a meet-and-greet, why feel more awkward than necessary. “Then all of the kids ran outside to play, and the adults turned their focus on making conversation,” he tells me. “Again, as these things go, everyone was sort of feeling each other out, but at one point during a conversation, the host mom said something about not believing in evolution — that was the first of many similar lessons.”
“It’s gotten easier since, but it’s still difficult to find people who are homeschooling for reasons other than not wanting their kids to be ‘indoctrinated by public schools,’” he continues. “I found myself worrying about whether the kids my daughter was playing with were vaccinated a lot more often than I thought I would have to.”
More largely, the meet-and-greet was the beginning of a socially isolating journey that’s been wrought with side-eyes and belittling questions. Because as a dad who works from home and handles a large share of the homeschooling responsibilities, Jason found himself among a minority. Some more anecdotal evidence to that end: While the National Center for Education Statistics doesn’t track which parent handles the majority of the work in a homeschooling household, the consensus is that fathers leave for the office and mothers stay home to teach the kids.
Jason and his wife decided to homeschool their daughter after missing the signup for kindergarten. After a successful first year and finding out their daughter was on the autism spectrum, the couple decided to keep going. “Being home was good for her — she needed structure and doesn’t do well with noises,” Jason says.
And so, for the next five years, he and his wife worked to homeschool her. At first, it wasn’t easy. Working full-time, Jason wanted to come home and “just be dad,” but he knew he needed to share the educational workload. Eventually, he and his wife adjusted their schedules so Jason could teach math, computers and hard sciences — things he’s very familiar with as someone who works in IT. But in taking on a more involved role, Jason began to see more of what he experienced at the meet-and-greet. When he and his wife were out together, most questions about their daughter’s schooling would be directed toward his wife.
“People assume fathers are largely uninvolved, as evidenced by the fact that almost everything having to do with homeschooling is geared toward moms,” he says. “All of the project ideas, Facebook groups and online communities are 100 percent marketed toward stay-at-home moms.”
Outside of homeschool circles, too, Jason says he experienced “a lot of the same isolation that other dads of daughters feel, but I got it more often.” For example, when he’d take his daughter to the mall or on a “field trip,” Jason says he’d get weird looks if his wife wasn’t there. “Doing it on a weekday got us extra-weird looks,” he says. “People assume you’re up to something, which made me feel gross or defensive.”
They got through it, though, and their daughter will enter fourth grade at a public school next year.
Meanwhile, Ken, a 41-year-old father of three in Tennessee, has been homeschooling his kids for seven years. He and his wife agreed early on that, as university professors, they could do a better job teaching their kids than the local public schools could.
After he’s tackled any necessary work he needs to do in the morning, he wakes his girls up at 8:30 a.m. to begin liberal arts class. At noon, he leaves for work as his wife takes over math and science lessons. “People generally assume I’m just the P.E. coach. But that’s not me. I specialize in the liberal arts,” Ken says. “It’s like they don’t expect me to be competent in educating my girls.”
Like Jason, Ken often finds himself in a group of homeschool moms, and says they’ll “seem hesitant to discuss things with a dad present as if I’m an imposter waiting for my wife to come back!”
“It makes me feel like I’m not needed or valued, which may be a bit extreme, but it’s the general theme and it can be very socially isolating,” Ken tells me. “It’s a similar feeling to when I was a stay-at-home dad for two years, but worse. If I’m even invited to homeschooling social events, I won’t be taken seriously. It’s fine if the husband is the P.E. teacher and it just works that way, but when others try to force it on you, it’s frustrating.”
Ultimately, though, Ken says he finds solace in the “unbelievable relationship” he’s developed with his daughters. “I could never have the relationship I have with them now — the relationship and the quantity and quality of my interactions with them,” he explains. “That alone makes homeschooling the best choice for us.”