Sell the Farm! Break the Bank! It’s Waldorf School or Bust!

This year is a big one for me. It’s a year I thought a lot about when my fourth (and final) daughter was born.

“What will we be doing five years from now when we have both a kindergartener and a senior?” I would wonder while nursing or folding laundry or planning the school day for the other two I was homeschooling. “How will we possibly afford the Waldorf school for all four kids, how can I possibly homeschool them forever and how could I possibly make peace with sending them all to public schools?”

It certainly never occurred to me that when this day came, we’d be living in Mexico and sending three of our girls to an international preparatory school while my first born finished high school at a charter in Pennsylvania.

Now, I couldn’t have this conversation in just any circle of mamas. I mean I could, but I wouldn’t bother. I’d be assumed crazy the minute I admitted how many school options we’ve tried looking for the right fit for our family (truth be told, we’ve moved a bunch, too). But you, the thoughtful and conscientious readers of Mothering, are a different breed. And I know for a fact that you, too, have spent countless hours racking your collective brains and searching your big ol’ hearts for the right answers when it comes to your kids and education.

SO LET’S TALK.

My story began 16 years ago when my eldest was still a toddler. (It’s all here: How I Nearly Lost My Shit Trying to Keep My Kids in “The Ideal School”). Rather than retell the whole thing again (and assuming that you’ll just click over and read it), I’d like to offer a thing or two I’ve learned from our journey through…

Two public high schools

Two charter high schools

One Waldorf middle school

Three public elementary schools

Two Waldorf elementary schools

One Mexican Montessori initiative

Three homeschool co-ops

One arts-based preschool

One Christian preschool

Two years of homeschooling

*and now*

Precisely three and a half weeks at a international Mexican preparatory school

I know it sounds insane, but if you add up the ages of my kids, we are talking almost 42 years to consider. (Okay, that sounds crazy, too.)

A circle of friends at the amazing Montessori initiative we were a part of in southern Mexico.

ANYHOW, the conversation I’d like to begin has less to do with any one school model as it does the way we as parents get so panties-in-a-wad-worried, white-knuckle-nervous and mama-bear-ferocious when it comes to the subject of whether we are doing the right thing by our children when it comes to their education.

Yes, it’s an important subject. Yes, it warrants considerable consideration. But to what lengths are we–as thoughtful, connected and in-tuned mothers–obligated, expected or willing to go in order to ensure the “ideal” education for our children? How do we appropriately prioritize THEIR needs (as we currently see them) against the budget, personal balance and the overall wellness of the family?

How far is too far?

I, personally, reached a point where I hated my life before I realized something had to give. For me, that was too far. Others I know have seen their savings accounts at risk and for them, that was far enough. Others still would say it’s crazy to even consider paying for school or homeschooling when there are perfectly good public schools out there and their limit isn’t wrong either.

Clearly the answers to these questions are as unique as each family asking them.

As for my personal opinion (the revealing of which is sure to wad the panties of many a mama bear): As adamant as I was in the beginning that the Waldorf way was the end-all be-all, I feel just as certain today that children (in general) can thrive in most any school setting (or un-school setting), depending largely on the attitude of the parents and the richness of their home lives.

Their last school in Mexico, where the kids played on whatever was around (including this old refrigerator) and couldn’t have been happier.

Hang on now. Before you go to that defensive place in yourself that protests, “Oh, but not my sweet boy. He’d be eaten alive in a class that size” or, “My girl could never sit still for so many hours,” or a big one for me, “But their school isn’t just a school, it’s our community!” I get it. “But she’s such a talented…” I know. “But maybe if we just sell the…” Been there, too. “But my intuition tells me…” Yep, that’s the hardest one.

At least it is if your income doesn’t agree with your intuition.

SO—for those of us who truly believe in a certain type of education and don’t make loads of money, but happen to buy into the “where there’s a will, there’s a way” spirit this country was founded on–what are WE supposed to do? Fight the good fight? Start initiatives? Study policy reform? Compromise our convictions?

Clearly, I can’t tell you the best thing for your family, nor can anyone else. And just like your babies, you know your family best. What I can offer are a few realizations I’ve had along our educational journey so far (for what it’s worth, and heck–it’s cheaper than any tuition).

Eight Things to Consider When Determining Whether Your Kids’ School Is Worth the Sacrifice

  1. There is always another way to look at your situation. Flip it around, turn it on its end, look at the bigger picture, leave the country! Whatever you do to gain a new perspective, stay open and fluid and curious. Are the limitations you feel real or created? Are you telling yourself stories about the way you think things are or “should be,” and if so, do you like your story?
  2. If you find yourself holding tight to one certain way, ask yourself what you are afraid of. In my case, I had a death grip on Waldorf ideals for the way they support the wholeness of the child, for the creative and outdoor learning environment and for the way the world is presented as a safe and beautiful place. But when I finally let it go (after many years and because 40K+ a year simply doesn’t work for us), I realized that I could still create much of the same environment in my home, that many other good non-Waldorfy folks share similar perspectives and that I was the one who needed to see the world as a safe and beautiful place if I wanted them to believe it.
  3. This is the first time in history that parents have even considered this many choices. The mother of a good friend of mine summed up this sentiment nicely, “I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. When my babies were growing up, we didn’t all sit around and try to make everything perfect for them, we just loved ‘em real good and knew they’d be okay in the end.” I think it’s legitimate to ask ourselves what our elders might have done in our situations. At least that’s what every other generation has done.
  4. Were the days before we worried over every last detail really so bad?

  5. Kids don’t see things in terms of perfection. (More on the subject here.) Not one baby is born into the world expecting a certain educational paradigm. They come into the world expecting to be loved. We are the ones who get so hung up on the details. They are curious about everything.
  6. There are teachers all around us and opportunities for growth built in to every moment. Tapping into these everyday lessons is often simply a matter of slowing our pace and paying attention.
  7. Life will offer them what they need, even when you cannot. Trust in the greater good sure takes a load off.
  8. Home life trumps all. Balance within your household, within your relationships and within yourself are going to matter more to your child in the long run than the school they attend. If these things are out of whack, no school will make up the difference.
  9. This is a first world problem. I can’t tell you how influential it’s been to step outside of our privileged US existence and contemplate such matters having made friends with oppressed and impoverished people. I’ve met woman after indigenous woman who would like nothing more than to send her kids to school if only there were a school, or enough money to afford the books or uniform. Conversations such as these ought to include a giant heap of acknowledgment that WE ARE THE FORTUNATE FEW WHO ACTUALLY HAVE CHOICES.

What do you think? How have you made peace (or not made peace) with your kids’ educational journey? Going to great lengths in order to meet your children’s’ educational needs? How far is too far?


Beth Berry

About Beth Berry

Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she’s not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com.