Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Home (Centered) Work
Marjorie Sangster Rolleston

Diana Pryntz and Brian Nadworny moved themselves and their four sons from the city to 100 rural acres. Phil and Cindy Marino “retired” twenty years early. Phil is currently building an electric car, and Cindy watches the sun rise from fields and woods where she bands migratory birds. Clara Mulligan and Peter Watson live on their family farm where Peter operates a sugar bush and Clara manages the family’s schedule and the farm’s finances.

Homeschoolers place a premium on time spent with our children. We realize that they are with us for a very short time, and we strive to make the most of those years. These three families have established alternative work paths that allow them to spend time with their children. Their stories may provide inspiration to others seeking ways to blend homeschooling values with a home-centered approach to making a comfortable living.

The Pryntz-Nadwornys

“Dream it, plan it, do it” is the motto that guided Diana Pryntz and Brian Nadworny as they realized their dream of moving to the country. They’d long considered rural living when they came upon an ad in Home Power magazine for property that included an existing geodesic dome. They bought the land and began working with an architect on plans for renovations. “It took about eight months, once we started working on the house, to get it into ‘livable’ condition,” Brian says.

“We’ve always leaned toward what our families considered ‘alternative’ choices,” says Diana. “If I hear someone say, ‘That’s a ridiculous idea,’ I’m intrigued.”

They married in the woods and Diana kept her maiden name. They are vegetarians. They had four homebirths. Although the alternative choices were stacking up, moving to the country still surprised family and friends. But for Diana and Brian, raised in New York City and Brooklyn respectively, this move was hardly an impulsive decision. “It took us seven years to get here,” Brian said. Dreaming up the move was easy, but with four small sons, the planning and execution took some time.

Since two of the biggest drains on a family’s finances are children’s college educations and health insurance, Brian and Diana incorporated these expenses into the “plan it” stage. “We saved money the old-fashioned way,” says Diana, “living conservatively.” She continues, “I don’t believe parents should be expected to foot the entire bill for college. There is nothing wrong with the boys working to contribute money towards their own education.” They’ve put money aside for the boys’ futures, which may or may not include college, depending entirely on each son’s choices. The Pryntz-Nadwornys get health insurance through Brian’s employer.

Through each shift in their lives, talking about expectations and responsibilities has been essential. After the birth of their first son, Diana went back to work full-time at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf where she was a computer science professor, and Brian stayed home. When Diana realized she wanted to stay home full-time with their baby, Brian assumed the role of full-time wage earner as a senior software engineer and continued his part-time job as a professional magician. With each change, they talked about expectations.

When the family relocated to the country, two hours from Brian’s job, he informed his employers of their move and told them he’d be telecommuting. They agreed to the arrangement. When Brian began working from home, “going into the office once every four to six months,” he and Diana discussed expectations and responsibilities again.

The most influential resources for Brian and Diana were La Leche League and their homeschooling support group. Both were filled with people who were family- oriented but espoused “radical ideas” such as the family bed and long-term nursing. “Actually,” Diana says, “the biggest radical idea I know of is that parents can actually love being around their kids all the time!”

Books that helped shape their thinking were John Holt’s unschooling books and La Leche League’s books on breastfeeding.

Not ones to compartmentalize, they don’t separate learning and work from life. Arriving at a place where most of the family’s work starts in the center of the home and reaches out into the world is a natural progression in Diana’s mind. “Our family is traveling the same journey – together.”

The Marinos

Seventeen years ago, Cindy Marino looked into her newborn son’s blue eyes and knew she wouldn’t be going back to her job as a graphics printer. Overnight, the Marinos went from being a double income couple to a single income family. Although she had no stay-at-home-mom friends, she soon found support in the women at La Leche League. “I met other women who believed staying home was a valid choice. La Leche League led right into homeschooling.” When she read What's a Smart Woman Like You Doing at Home? by Linda Burton, Cindy’s decision to stay home became permanent.

For nearly 25 years, Phil was happy in his job as a mechanical engineer. “Then changes were made, my project was dropped, and several years of my work was literally thrown into a Dumpster.” That’s when the Marinos discovered Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The book encouraged them to consider the balance between money and quality of life. Was Phil’s paycheck worth the stress and time, not to mention money spent on commuting, clothes, and paying others to do repairs and maintenance around the house? The Marinos prepared for a change.

“I worked four days a week for three years, then cut back to three days a week for a year before I finally left the job for good,” Phil says. He was 48 years old.

How were Phil and Cindy able to make the leap from a steady income to ‘no’ income? “We had our children later. I was 34. Phil was 38,” Cindy says. “We’d both worked full time for many years. All of my paycheck and half of Phil’s went into savings and investments.”

“And,” Phil adds, “We don’t have expensive tastes.” The Marinos live in a small house and made the last mortgage payment the same time their children were born. “We think about building an addition from time to time but then ask, ‘Is it worth it?’ The answer is always no.”

Could a couple just starting today take the same path as the Marinos? Phil and Cindy shrug and say it’s impossible to predict the health of the economy, the stock market or investments. “I believe that the vast majority of people spend money very freely without considering the cost to the their lives.” Regardless of the health of the economy, Phil encourages thoughtful spending, re-using and recycling items whenever possible.

Cindy adds, “If you decide to have a family, you’re going to want to spend more time with them than you think. Don’t buy the big house or the expensive car just because you can. You may want that money later for something else.”

Phil grew up in a frugal household and continues that lifestyle. He believes his children understand the importance of thoughtful spending. “That’s true of most homeschooling families we know,” he says. “Kids are a part of many family decisions and get an early, realistic view of the family’s finances.”

The Marinos face the same expenses as others. For health insurance, Phil searched the community for organizations offering group-rate coverage to its members. The Rochester Arts and Cultural Council’s philosophy meshed with Phil’s, so he became a member and purchases health insurance coverage through them. As for college costs, savings and investment plans were started in the children’s names after they were born and have grown significantly. Grandparents contributed some too. Nick (17) and Katherine (14) take classes at the local community college, a less expensive option for now. If they move on to a four-year degree or more, Cindy and Phil will encourage them to consider universities closer to home to avoid steep transportation costs.

Now that the children are older and home less often, Cindy works ten hours per week at a health club. “The job pays for my membership, encourages me to exercise and provides a little bit of money.”

Phil, too, is thinking about looking for part-time work, although he stays very busy with his many projects at home and small carpentry jobs he picks up on the side. “When I worked a nine to five job, I had to pay other people to do what I didn’t have time to do. Now, I do small house and car repairs and yard work. I have a small but very productive garden. I get great satisfaction from caring for the home and family myself.”

The Marinos buy things on sale whenever possible. They shop at thrift stores, garage sales, and on-line at eBay and half.com for used items, not because they have to, but because they believe in reusing and recycling. To learn more about this philosophy, Cindy recommends The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn, a book promoting “thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle.”

This lesson is not lost on the Marino children. Katherine buys clothes at thrift stores and sews them into original creations. Nick makes hundreds of dollars buying electronic games at garage sales and reselling them on eBay.

Phil is building an electric car with almost all of the parts purchased used on eBay. “I’m building this car as a demonstration of environmental thoughtfulness, so it makes sense to use recycled parts.”

Having both parents home and available has enriched the lives of the Marino family. Everyone’s able to pursue hobbies, whether it’s Phil’s a cappella group, Katherine’s painting, Cindy’s quilting or Nick’s interest in computers. “Schedules can be chaotic,” Cindy says. “Good communication is essential.”

Phil notes another benefit. “We are closer as a couple and closer to our kids,” he says, just before he and Cindy go out for a bike ride. But first, they’ll drop Katherine off at dance and take Nick to his martial arts class.

The Mulligan-Watsons

A dozen chickens, some fancy, some plain, strut about the sunny side yard of the old farmhouse Clara Mulligan and Peter Watson share with their two children. Peter arrives home from a carpentry job just up the road and settles in front of the woodstove with Clara for a mid-morning cup of coffee. Holly, 17, is taking classes at the community college; Forrest, 14, is at his grandmother’s working on the plumbing.

While this may sound like a quiet life, the Mulligan-Watsons are very busy, but busy with work of their own choosing. Peter, raised on a farm in Vermont and homeschooled on and off throughout the 1950s, has been his own boss for all but his first two years out of college. He’s worked as a carpenter, a roofer and a landscaper. “Whatever work there was, I did,” he says. These days, he does carpentry work, creates sculptures, runs a small sugar bush, plows snow, teaches bagpipe lessons, and still does whatever work needs doing.

“We don’t have a lot of money coming in,” Peter says, “but we don’t have a lot of expenses either.” They live in one of the houses on the farm where Clara grew up. The family tends a large garden that provides much of their food. Peter barters for goods and services. For example, after borrowing a friend’s trailer, Peter and Forrest helped that friend pour a patio. The bartering doesn’t necessarily have to be reciprocal. “I help one guy and he turns around and does something for someone else. It’s a karmic thing,” Peter says. They get some income from the Mulligan family farm where Clara contributes by managing the books while her brother does the day-to-day work of running the farm.

The Mulligan-Watsons have health insurance through a national company but rarely see a doctor. Clara, a practitioner of the healing arts, manages the health of the family and farm animals through her extensive use of flower essences and intuitive healing.

It never occurred to Clara and Peter to send their children to school. “There’ve always been so many interesting things going on here. Why would we send them away from the house?” Clara asks. They maintain the same attitude toward college. While Forrest and Holly are encouraged to explore their interests, their parents know that some of those interests may lead to college and some may not. “We’re not pushing the kids toward college. We’re letting them lead the way,” Clara says. “If they do go, they will probably get scholarships, work-study money and loans, like many other kids.” They have set some money aside for their children’s future. “It’s not a lot but it will get them started in whatever their future holds,” says Clara.

Thinking ahead to their own future, Peter and Clara have put money into an IRA but don’t worry about whether it will be enough for them to “retire” on. “We don’t do a lot of planning ahead because plans don’t always work out the way you think they will,” says Clara. Peter adds, “We’ve always just figured things out day by day, month by month.”

Clara admits this relaxed attitude toward money and life comes more easily to Peter than it does to her. Peter comes from a family of artists. His mother wrote children’s books. His father illustrated those books and books by others. Of Peter’s seven siblings, five are artists. He grew up in a household that sometimes had money and sometimes didn’t. “When there was money, we paid the bills. When there wasn’t, we figured out a way to earn some.” He credits his parents as having the greatest influence on his relaxed approach to living. “My parents would say, ‘Look at the sunset. Isn’t it beautiful?’ Then Mom would write about it; Dad would paint it. I had access to fields, woods, plants, and adults who appreciated it all.”

Coming from a family of several generations of artists and farmers, Holly and Forrest have no role models for a nine to five working life “They’ve been raised in a family that says, ‘find what you love and do it.’ If either of them ends up with a nine to five job, I’m sure we will watch with great fascination,” muses Clara.

"The greatest benefit to having both of us working from is we are availale to our kids all the time," Clara says. Even when Peter's work takes him out into the community, he makes himself available to the family.

Peter sheds light on his life’s philosophy. “There’s the work we do to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. All the rest is what we do to feed our souls.”


Like most homeschoolers, family comes first for the Mulligan-Watsons, the Marinos and the Pryntz-Nadwornys. These particular families have used their personal skills and interests to define their unique paths to making a living, paths that allow them to spend time with their children. They have not turned their backs on technology, conveniences or modern culture nor have they sacrificed quality of life. They have, to paraphrase Peter Watson, found work to feed their bodies and souls.

Margie lives in Rochester, NY with her husband, Rob and their daughters, Ellyn and Carolyn. They are long-time members of Rochester Area Homeschoolers Association.

 

 

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