I grew up a homeschooled kid in the early 80s, when it was still pretty unusual – some people didn’t even know the term homeschooling back then! For those who want to know more about the nitty gritty of my daily life as a child, check out my mom Mary Hood’s books, starting with The Relaxed Homeschooler. To sum up here: we followed a loose structure throughout the day, focused a lot – a lot – on reading real books, and had plenty of time for flexibility and free time. It’s a childhood I loved, but it put me firmly outside of the normal American youth’s childhood. I’m going to share a bit of how this has shaped my adulthood. But first the quick facts of my life since graduating homeschool.

I left home at age sixteen to attend college, where I earned a degree in English literature. After graduating, I spent seven and a half years in South Korea, working mainly in an international school, first as a resident assistant, and then as a student life director. (I planned chapels, mission trips, and spiritual emphasis weeks, along with my male counterpart). At twenty-eight, I moved back to the states, went to get my master’s degree in counseling, and now practice counseling with children and families. I met my husband and got married along the way, and am now expecting our first little baby, at the age of thirty-six.

I confess it’s hard to know exactly how homeschooling shaped me, vs. how my family shaped me. The obvious factor homeschooling contributed was that I was able to spend a ton of time with my parents, which would have been limited if I had gone to a traditional school. But this is what I believe homeschooling developed in me, specifically:

I am willing to be outspoken.

I have strong opinions and I am not afraid to share them. I believe that this was due to not being socialized to be quiet as a child. In my career, and in my marriage, this has been a gift. It has been good for me to be clear about who I am and what I think, and to be able to communicate that to others. I think if I had been in a classroom early on, I would have felt pressure to conform to what society expects, and it likely would have stunted my ability to speak out. I noticed when I started college that I was way more outspoken – possibly obnoxious – than my peers, and actually needed to learn to tone it down a bit. But I know myself, and this was good for me. By nature I’m a people pleaser. Having freedom to speak out in my family, and in groups of other outspoken homeschoolers, let me practice being who I really am.

I am okay being different, and I am okay with others being different.

Growing up in the homeschooling subculture, I had to figure out how to be okay with sticking out when I interacted with public and private schooling friends. This came in extremely handy during my time overseas. I was a racial minority for the first time in my life (an experience I highly recommend for all). Just by looking at me, people made assumptions about my value system, my education and my economic status. But actually, it was pretty easy to get comfortable with other people having stereotypes about me, which I think came from years of people having assumptions about me as a homeschooler.

I also think that being different, if stewarded well, can translate into deeper levels of empathy and true acceptance. I’ve been able to enjoy different styles of worship from different countries, try “unique” foods, and respect the pace of less time-oriented cultures, when I’ve traveled. As a counselor, I do not think that there is one model for what a healthy family looks like – I think we have a lot of freedom to create different rituals, habits and norms. I am an extrovert and married to an introvert, and our differences are okay and even valuable to me. I am eagerly anticipating seeing what our new baby will be like, and I certainly hope he’s not exactly like me! How boring a life would that be?

I make unconventional life choices.

I feel completely free to think outside the box as I make choices that shape my life and future. I drive a beat-up car and live in a fixer-upper home, even though we could afford “better,” because I don’t value social status in that way. I have a unique, wonderful husband who does the same. I felt called overseas as a single woman, when others might have said no to that adventure. I feel so lucky that I have been able to sort of “have it all” with having such a fun, rewarding career, and now still being able to have a family, albeit a little later than expected. I have a really full, rich life in which I get to serve others, while having great friendships and a wonderful family. We’re still unsure how my career will change once the baby is here, but I have faith that with God and a great husband, we will make good decisions – one’s that won’t come from the world’s expectations.

My final thought is a word of caution to homeschooling parents and kids: I’ve noticed over the years that some people make their identity about their school choice. The reality is that I was homeschooled for sixteen years, and for the last twenty, I was not. What has been constant in my life is my decision to follow God, and gain my identity from Him. He works in so many circumstances, and He is good in all of them. Homeschooling added to my life, but it is not the whole of my life. And thank the Lord for that! He made an amazing creation with so much to experience. I’m glad I’m in the thick of it.

Copyright 2017, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Virginia Hood Brewster lives and serves in the Pacific Northwest, with her wonderful husband and son. She has spent the past sixteen years working with children and families in various roles, and has a Master of Arts in Counseling from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. She loves cooking, personal finance and books.