Dealing with homeschool doubt


The following is a guest post written by Sheila Petruccelli of Sure as the World.

Usually it sneaks up on me.

It starts as an infrequent whisper and quickly progresses to an insistent echo in my head. It undercuts my plans and has me second-guessing just about everything. It casts a shadow over the good days and magnifies the bad ones.

It follows me from morning to night and even haunts my dreams.

It’s doubt: a nebulous and invasive feeling of uncertainty that makes me feel as though I’m standing in quicksand.

It happens about once every homeschooling year, and it absolutely slays me.

One would think I would be immune to these doubt-filled thoughts. I have always homeschooled my boys and wholeheartedly support homeschooling both in concept and in practice.

I have seen quantifiable results in our yearly test scores, not to mention expanded emotional and spiritual capacities that astound me.

My boys are learning, growing and thriving in ways that make me proud.

And yet …

But still …

The doubt creeps in. Having been down the doubt road several times now, I have developed some ways to confront my uncertainty.

1.Talk it out.

The talking in my head has been happening for some time: back and forth, around and around.

Saying the words aloud changes them. They lose some of their power, and I can begin to sort through the incessent chatter. Talking about my feelings of doubt with my husband, my best homeschooling friend and other sympathetic listeners helps tremendously.


2. Get a consultation.

I love my homeschooling consultant. She has homeschooled two boys through high school and still has her daughter at home. She has been there — and is still there.

When she says “I understand,” I know she really does. Her advice helps me to see these periods of questioning as normal and temporary.

3. Write it out.

Normally, I’m not a journal writer, but during these times of uncertainty, I really benefit from putting pen to paper. Writing about my fears, my hopes, my plans, my goals, and yes, most definitely, my doubts allows me to quiet my mind and listen to my heart.

4.Make a few minor adjustments.

The key words here are “few” and “minor!”

When things are feeling shaky, my instinct is to clear the slate completely and start something new — because then I will get it right.

“Waldorf not working? Let’s try Classical.”

“Rhythm and routine a bust? Let’s try unschooling!”

I wish I could say I’m being dramatic for effect here, but these radical changes have sounded very appealing at 2 o’clock in the morning.

5. Assess.

Objectively. Thoroughly.

This is the final step and the most gratifying.

I go back through all the work we have done since August. I read through all my lesson plans that I have diligently kept in a binder for just these types of occasions.

I read through old blog posts that chronicle the day-to-day aspects of our homeschooling journey.

I revisit our book lists, music lessons, handwork projects. I flip through the calendar and take note of all the plays, performances and puppet shows we have attended.

After doing this objective and thorough assessment, I am left with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. I don’t find perfection, but progression: evidence that homeschooling is a lifestyle to be embraced, not a problem to be solved.


On the other side of doubt, I am able to see our days as full, but not busy.

Yes, there is time spent in the schoolroom at the desks.

But there is also time spent in the kitchen preparing food, outside playing, on the couch reading and by ourselves just being quiet.

Silencing those voices of doubt allows me see our days holistically, with a renewed sense of appreciation for what it is we are trying to do here every day.

We are learning.

We are growing.

We are thriving — without a doubt!

How do you deal with doubt in your homeschool?

About Sheila Petruccelli

Sheila Petruccelli is a homeschooler, homemaker and homebody at heart. She believes a fancy pair of cowboy boots is just about as good as a superhero cape, even though her husband, two boys, their dog and the old farmhouse in which they live frequently test the limits of this theory. She blogs about her days at Sure as the World.


  1. “A lifestyle to be embraced . . . ” Yes, yes, yes! I’m slowly learning that because this is a lifestyle, our family life, and therefore our homeschool, isn’t going to look exactly like someone else’s. And that’s okay! Thanks so much for sharing your struggles, Sheila. Your honesty always makes me feel a little lighter and a little more normal. 🙂

    • It’s a journey for sure Tracie. And I think seeing the uniqueness of our individual homeschooling situation is a crucial first step.
      xxoo to you.

  2. Talk about serendipity! This is my doubtful season each year–and it is my 12th year of homeschooling. You spoke right to my heart this morning. Thank you.
    Anne’s latest post: Magic from The Magic Flute

    • 12 years . . . oh, I was hoping the doubts stopped after 7! LOL as that is where I am now. Glad you found some camaraderie here Anne. Have a great weekend.

  3. You have been such an encouragement to me and to many in the homeschooling community…I can honestly say I would likely not have made the leap if it were not for your down to earth and common sense approach. Thank you for being brave enough to share your struggles and joys.
    Emmie’s latest post: Today

  4. I think all we have is our own story and we are called to share it as completely and as honestly as we can. Looking forward to continuing the conversation, my friend.

  5. You put into words what many of us feel so often. I just went through this too. I find speaking openly with others, those who homeschool and those who don’t. Everyone has doubts about what is best for their kids. This year I also spoke with my kiddos. They encourage me and remind of all that they have learned. Lastly, I stop and breathe. Focusing inward for a few minutes brings forth an awareness to me that everything is the way it is supposed to be at the moment.
    Sharon’s latest post: March Madness-Homeschool Style

  6. Yes, I think doubt is just part of parenting – no matter how we choose to educate your children.
    And if we can all just remember to breathe for a moment, it does get easier doesn’t it?

  7. I try to remember that most of my doubts come from the expectations of *others*. When I can remember that, and remember to be my own guru (through really seeing and listening to my kids, as well as following my heart and head as to what makes sense for us) as opposed to anyone else, I feel a lot better. After 10 years homeschooling, I can truly be confident that I can pretty much figure any issue out with what I know, and try to turn off the outside voices (they know who they are lol) that are at the root of my doubt. My kids are totally succeeding with homeschooling, and that pretty much puts my doubts to rest. Homeschooling works, it really does.

    I also try to tackle whatever the issue is right away – whether it’s figuring out SATs or what’s the next read aloud or the bigger stuff. The more I worry, I more I doubt, and as my grandma used to say “worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere”. So I just tackle the doubt and slay it, whether that means signing up for gymnastics or reading about college application essays.

    Great post. I found your lovely blog yesterday, and even though I like to be my own guru (grin) I surely enjoy and am inspired by the positive influence and good ideas of others such as yourself. Many thanks for sharing your corner of the world.

  8. Thank you for your kind words Penny.
    Most of those doubting voices are not my own either. If I could just channel that energy I could move mountains LOL. We all could!

  9. My blog is like my journal. In it I give voice to ideas, inspiration, and, yes, doubts, that I have about homeschooling. It’s been especially therapeutic for me because those doubts have been running rampant as we approach our first year of being evaluated as unschoolers instead of homeschoolers. I let it out of my system, and at the same time, get great advice from people the world over!
    Shelly’s latest post: Learning in Freedom- Our Nature Study Wake-Up Call

  10. Funny you should say that, because I’ve never thought of my blog as a journal – but that is exactly what it is! I need to re-think what journaling means and let go of my idea that it means putting a literal pen to paper. Thank you for that insight.
    Good luck with your evaluation. You know your children and you can stand strong in that knowledge.

  11. Thanks, Sheila, for your take on these pesky feelings! I only wish I would get them just once a homeschooling year. With my eldest doing well in school for the first time (8th grade), I feel somewhat validated. She is thriving and we are both getting a good sense of how much we did together when she was home. I strive to be better at using that information to combat my doubts about the ones still learning at home. For each child is different and often requires a different approach from my singular self! In the back of my mind is the worry whether I am doing enough as I keenly feel their success (for lack of a better term) is tied to my efforts (yikes, there is a lot packed in there!). Your mentor is my good friend who has kept me grounded over the years – thank heavens for her! My latest mantra is RELAX. It joins the old friend, BREATHE. Guided in love and wonder, encouraged in their curiosity and creativity, they will thrive and soar. Peace to all who tread this path…

    • “the worry whether I am doing enough as I keenly feel their success (for lack of a better term) is tied to my efforts (yikes, there is a lot packed in there!)”
      There is a lot packed in there. Lots of truth I recognize as my own – if I am being honest.
      Your closing lines are filled with so much wisdom . . . holding all of that close to my heart.
      Love to you today and always.

  12. Thank you so much for this post Sheila. It’s so hard not to doubt ourselves and question what we are doing sometimes. I am keeping this post close for those days and weeks when it all becomes too much, and I need a reminder of why we’ve chosen this life. Hugs, friend! 🙂
    Kara’s latest post: Our Rad cooking adventure.

    • There are those times when it all is just too much . . . that’s why we have friends . . . Especially those with gravatars that make us laugh every single time they pop up!
      xo to you!

  13. I believe the first post I ever read on your blog was about doubt and I remember feeling so happy that you were willing to talk about it. Doubt sneaks up on me too from time to time. This post is full of good advice. I’ll remember MINOR adjustments next time I have a freak-out. 🙂
    Kelley’s latest post: One year of blogging–I am a writer!

  14. This is a good time of year for a post like this! I went through it a few weeks ago and even a bit yesterday! Yesterday was more of myself questioning how I can possibly get my three teenagers everywhere they have to go and still be able to school the youngest five!
    I realized that changing things up was necessary! I had everything working like clockwork, but it was boring and if even I wasn’t having fun, well, it wasn’t a good thing.
    So I talked it out with my husband. He is very adamant about homeschooling and feels very strongly about it. So after writing in my journal and then talking to one of the greatest homeschool pep talkers I know, I felt better. I switched a few things around and am feeling better about the change and the kids are enjoying it more too.
    Now, to get those teens driving! Then I could get a handle on things! 🙂 Maybe? lol
    Amy Caroline’s latest post: Thankful Thursday ~ April 3, 2014

  15. The logistics can drive you nuts! No pun intended.
    It’s a lot, when we look at what is packed into a day – not to mention every one has to eat too!
    Glad for your pep talk. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Charlotte says:

    I never went to college though. In my state you can take a qualifying class and that is what I did. I know I am smart, I have taught my cousin to read and my grandmother used to have me teach English grammar to adults at her church. I did go to a vocational school but it was completely unrelated. My work experience is also unrelated. So I guess I have more reasons for doubt. My honest motive for homeschooling, I want my daughter to enjoy growing up. When I was a child, the other children made fun of me so much and misunderstood me a lot. I don’t want to play victim, I am just saying my experience taught me that school is not for everyone. I was so done with the teasing, I actually stopped going to school in 8th grade and failed. My father who was single did not know I was skipping so much until I failed and had to go to summer school. My brother had also failed but he was the opposite; he was too popular. So he said.

    I just feel like it is silly to send a girl to school and tell her not to care that people are constantly bullying and teasing her.

    So technically I am “sheltering” my daughter, so my friend says. Even though it would be nice to please others I just simply cannot shake my own schooling experience and so I insist on homeschooling.

    My daughter is learning and she is happy, and that is what I want her school years to be like. My son has autism and I cannot handle him alone, but he is in a special program where he is literally “sheltered.” I know he is not getting bullied, and I know that what I am doing is right for him.

  17. My mother quit school in 9th grade and she is probably the smartest woman I know. However I know she has a lot of reconciling within herself to see her experience as valuable despite not having a piece of paper. This is hard, hard inner work.

    I think it is important to protect our children. Do you know the blog Carrie has some wise words on this subject. It might be worth a visit.

  18. Hi Sheila,
    As I’ve told you before, I think that homeschooling Moms have the hardest job in the world. To me it almost looks like a spiritual quest or journey…
    I love your usual raw honesty and practical advice. Every year I go thru doubts about whether to keep sending my kids to our Waldorf school and I use your same steps to help myself. I talk to other Moms at our school, I talk to the teachers about their plans for the next year, I asses and review all of their work…So, your advice applies to many other questions in life as well!
    Thanks for sharing today Sheila. I really loved this post. Aloha, Lori

    • I’m sure you have heard me quote my spiritual director before: “Is it true or is it a story I tell myself.” I think this process of overcoming doubt helps to sort out what is fact from what is fiction – and yes, we can apply that to so many areas in our lives.
      Love to you friend.

  19. nighttime is NOT the right time to formulate more plans! it is so easy for me to trip us up here. thanks for these thoughtful words.

  20. Naomi White says:

    I haven’t always homeschooled. I pulled my then 5 year old out of preschool because he was becoming extremely anxious and had lost every ounce of his confidence in his short, but obviously stressful, school experience. A year on and he has regained much of his confidence and his anxiety is decreasing all the time. He is still detoxing, but having my little boy back to his exuberant, quirky little self is a wonderful thing. When I feel doubt about about my abilities as an educator, I just think about the alternative, and I know homeschooling is absolutely the best option. I understand him (more or less). His teachers didn’t. I want him to be himself, happy and proud to be an individual. His teachers wanted him to conform. I want him to love learning. His teachers didn’t care about that at all. They just wanted him to finish the damned worksheet!! The list goes on and on, but you get the picture. When you teach with love, you get a child who loves to learn. Only a parent can do that. 🙂

    • Yes. Yes. Yes. Do you know the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne? He talks about how all kids are quirky and when they are put under stress this natural quirkiness transforms into “disorder” (for lack of a better word). When the stressors are removed, most of the time, the children return to themselves.
      Congratulations to you for being such an advocate for your child!

  21. Hi Sheila, Thanks for sharing your concern 🙂
    It helps broaden my knowledge about HS. I am mom of 2 boys, 4 and 3. Already considering to homeschool my boys for such a long time, however I still doubt, should I join charter school or should I establish my own private school (here in California, to legalize our HS, we have to sign a Private School Affidavit, ). Do you have any thought? THanks for sharing.

    • I don’t really know anything about that Affidavit, as we are not in CA, but I would try to find some local people who could speak to that. Sometimes, just hearing from someone who has gone through the process makes it less threatening and scary. I know in NC we have to administer a yearly standardized test – which at first blush seems very intimidating. However, having done it several times, I know you can administer the test at home and the scores are not even sent anywhere except to me.
      Perhaps the Affidavit is similar? Just a legal hoop to jump through. If you are interested in homeschooling with Waldorf inspired methods, I have a contact in CA who could probably advise you. Leave me a comment back here if that is the case.

  22. Thanks so much for this post! I just went through an extremely doubtful time in homeschooling my 7yo. I was ready to send him to school (which would have been the wrong thing for him) when our state homeschooling conference came up. Being around other homeschooling families and attending all of the talks really helped to reinspire me.

  23. Community is so important. Having other people who “get” what we do everyday is so validating – especially on the doubtful days.
    Glad to hear you are reinspired.

  24. How come doubt is so sneaky? For sure it sneaks up on me even after all these years. I think the best advice here is “a few minor changes.” So often I think I need to revamp the whole deal when really just a few tweaks will do the trick. I am beginning to re-emerge after a tough few months and doubt is there waiting for me! Talking it out has been the ticket this time and the doubt has melted away (for now!) It’s difficult to remember that this is all completely normal and even an important part of the process when we’re in the thick of it! I’m linking this post to mine on “No More Second Guessing.” (And I’m honored to be the consultant and friend!)
    Thanks Jamie, for inviting Sheila over to play!

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