Home schools in America offer an alternative form of education to both traditional public and private schools for hundreds of thousands of school age children (Lines, 1991). While this number is not large in relation to the total school age population of the United States, it represents a trend which is growing in popularity.
This qualitative study has examined the major reasons why one group of parents choose to educate their children at home (Gray, 1992). It has focused on the attitudes of home school parents toward the many forms of public and private schools available to them. In addition it has provided rich descriptions about the families that home school, including their daily schedules and the use of curriculum and teaching techniques. This study has also explored the factors that motivate parents to continue home schooling. It has probed the fears and frustrations of parents as they endeavor to home school and as well it has recorded their personal triumphs and victories.
This study also investigated the attitudes of a comparison group of non-home school parents toward the public and private schools available to them. Non-home school parents were questioned at length with regard to their opinion concerning various aspects of home schooling. In comparing and contrasting these two groups of parents, distinct differences emerged which provided insights into the decision making process of both groups of parents.
Summary and Limitations of the Data-Based Literature
The reasons parents chose to educate their children at home, as suggested by the literature reviewed (Greene, 1984; Gustafson, 1987; Gustavsen, 1981; Hood, 1991; Howell, 1989; Linden, 1983; Mahan & Ware, 1987; Mayberry, 1988; Resetar, 1990; Williams, Arnoldsen & Reynolds, 1984; Van Galen, 1987), may be summarized into ten major categories. These are: physiological and neurological maturity of the child, psychological damage and peer dependence, moral or philosophical conflict, curricular concerns, teaching concerns, governance issues, physical school environment, school availability, special needs of the child, and special needs of the parent.
There are several limitations to this body of literature. The first of these limitations is that there have been relatively few data-based studies completed which deal exclusively with the question of why parents chose to educate their own children. A second problem is that a high percentage of these studies rely heavily and almost exclusively on questionnaires as a basis for their conclusions. These methodologies provide ample demographic information, however, they only serve to provide introductory information as to why parents chose to home school. A third limitation deals with the sampling process used in some of the studies. A limited sampling process predisposes certain response patterns.
Sunland Christian School, Sunland California, was designated as a private school in the State of California. It was not a school in the traditional sense of the word. It provided oversight and counsel and allowed for a complete course of independent study in kindergarten through grade twelve. Parents were expected to serve as teachers for their own children at home.
Procedure for Gathering Data
This is a qualitative study. While the study does provide for some quantitative analysis it has remained secondary to the qualitative aspects of the study.
Information was gathered from Sunland Christian School families and from a comparison group of non-home schooling families through the use of a demographic questionnaire, an attitude questionnaire, and, primarily, through a personal interview.
A six-item questionnaire was used to gather preliminary information on home school parents. From this group of responding parents a sample was generated. Sunland Christian Schools had 245 families registered at the close of the 1988-1989 school year. The total number of responding parents was then 144. This represents a response of 58%. From those responding, a stratified random sample of 29 home school parents was drawn.
Non-home schooling parents were identified during the personal interview with home school parents. Eighteen of the home school families, or 60%, were able to recruit non-home school parents for the study.
The sample of both home school and non-home school children included ages five through eighteen. Additionally, children from public, private religious and private nonreligious schools were found in the sample of non-home school children.
Gathering demographic and attitudinal information from parents.
All parents were mailed a demographic questionnaire which consisted of closed-ended questions. It probed areas such as the length of time the child had been taught at school or at home, the educational background of the parents, as well as other socioeconomic information.
Before interviewing parents the researcher administered a six-item attitude questionnaire to them. The questionnaire probed parents’ knowledge or perception of the public, private nonreligious, and private religious schools in their area. The questionnaire measured the impressions of parents in areas such as teacher quality, discipline, academic standards, average class size, physical facilities, and the quality of school administrators.
Interviews with all parents ranged in length from 45 to 90 minutes. These interviews were taped and later transcribed verbatim.
Open-ended questions were used to probe parents’ attitudes. These questions served only as prompts and allowed opportunity for explanation.
Procedure for Analyzing Data
The actual procedure for analyzing data followed the Interactive Model as outlined by Miles and Huberman (1984). This procedure consists of three distinct phases: data eduction, data display, and finally conclusion drawing and verification.
Data reduction began at an anticipatory level before the actual contacting of parents. The selection of a particular site and the selection of demographic and attitude questions and interview prompts did much to reduce the type of data collected. The literature review allowed the researcher to gain an understanding of what prior research had explored and clarified with regard to home school parents and their decision to home school. The clarification and selection of questions and prompts were allowed to emerge from the field. The chi-square test of independence, which was used to assess demographic and attitudinal differences did little more than reveal obvious and glaring differences between home school and non-home school parents. Rather than rely solely on this test to reveal differences worth pursuing, the researcher carefully examined the responses parents gave on the demographic and attitudinal questionnaire for any hint of distinction which might prove significant in understanding the motivation of parents. This method forms the basis for a Grounded Theory as explained by Glaser and Strauss (Miles & Huberman, 1984).
Once parents had been interviewed their responses were coded by the researcher. In forming categories of responses in was difficult to ignore the categorization suggested by earlier studies. Great similarity did emerge as expected. However the researcher was keenly aware of new emerging categorizations not suggested by earlier studies. As coding progressed the researcher began to write small summaries, draw partitions, and form clusters. As new themes emerged the researcher pursued them to verify if they were a valid expression of parents or the isolated response of a parent or parents. The next step was the displaying of data. Limited quantitative information gathered from the demographic and attitude questionnaires was easily displayed for the reader’s review through the use of simple frequency distributions, percentages and the chi square test of independence. The interviewing of parents, however, produced hundreds of pages of verbatim transcripts which would have been difficult for the reader to process. The researcher therefore selected interesting quotes which allowed the reader both access and assessability upon which to evaluate the conclusions drawn.
The final aspect of analysis included the drawing of conclusions and the verification of these conclusions. The researcher noted the regularity of responses. Patterns and explanations were highlighted. During analysis the researcher tried to provide enough information so that the reader could judge for his/herself the plausibility and sturdiness of the conclusions drawn.
Limitations of the Study
The researcher chose to study the parents of Sunland Christian School. Because this is a church organization there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the responses of these parents were biased and in line with their religious beliefs.
Second, parents themselves volunteered to be part of the study. It cannot be confirmed with any degree of certainty that the parents who agreed to participate in the study are representative.
Third, the researcher has had broad professional exposure to traditional schools but has chosen to home school his own children, thus creating potential bias.
The final limitation of the study is that it relies almost exclusively on the expressions of parents gathered during the personal interview. How much of what is said by parents and can be taken at face value must be assessed with caution.
Summary of Findings
As the researcher reviewed the information gathered from the demographic questionnaire, several important observations were made.
First, there was a remarkable similarity between home school and non-home school families. The two groups were similar in socioeconomic make-up and family structure. This would seem to suggest that the reasons parents chose to home school were not identifiable solely within the limits of demography.
Second, the demographic questionnaire revealed that home school parents had middle to high family incomes. This is significant because it does not preclude parents from selecting private schools as an alternative to public schools for their children. However, “affordability” is a relative term. Some parents, regardless of income level may not consider an investment in private education within their means.
Third, home school mothers may have been somewhat better educated that their non-home school counter parts. As primary teachers of the home school child, these mothers needed to posses academic confidence and self sufficiency. Almost 80% of the mothers studied had training beyond a high school education with more than 50% earning at least a four year college degree.
Fourth, home school families had a high frequency of religious affiliation as Evangelical Christians. This seems to be consistent with the findings of the interview, which demonstrate that the number one reason parents gave for beginning to home school was a values conflict between home and school.
As the researcher reviewed the information gathered from the attitude questionnaire, several important observations were made.
In most areas home school parents consistently rated all types of schools more unfavorably than did non-home school parents. Data indicate that out of the 18 areas of inquiry, 6 were found to provide a statistically significant difference. The most significant differences occurred between parents when they discussed public schools. Four areas found to reveal statistical difference referred to the local public schools. These included discipline, class size, academic standards, and teacher quality. The greatest difference and dissatisfaction occurred in the area of discipline. Only in the areas of the quality of school administrators and the public schools’ facilities were home school and non-home school parents similar in their responses. Both groups showed satisfaction in these areas. It is interesting to note that these two areas show the least direct influence upon the child. The areas of discipline, class size, academic standards and teacher quality more directly impacted the child and were of more critical concern to home school parents.
Both groups of parents had very little knowledge or opinion about the private, nonreligious schools available to them. In spite of this, home school parents still perceived that class size was too large.
With regard to private religious schools, only 1 out of the 18 areas showed a significant difference between home school and non-home school parents. This was in the area of discipline. Home school parents indicated greater dissatisfaction than did non-home school parents. As noted earlier, home school parents discussed that a values conflict between home and school was a major reason for deciding to begin home schooling. Discipline standards and values are closely related. The way a particular school or teacher may choose to discipline or withhold discipline may reflect a value which is in conflict with what some parents hold as acceptable or unacceptable behavior.
The analysis of the attitude questionnaire provided much information which aided in understanding the motivation of parents to home school. Home school parents were greatly dissatisfied with teacher quality, discipline, and academic standards at the local public schools available to them. In addition home school parents conceded that they knew relatively little about the private nonreligious schools available to them.
Home school parents indicated overall satisfaction with the private religious schools available to them. The objection of these parents to sending their children to these local private religious school was not clear. The demographic questionnaire, in assessing family income levels, did not seem to preclude this groups from enrolling because parents could not afford the tuition and fees.
The attitude questionnaire shed some light on why parents chose to home school their children, but it was limited. Apparently there are other factors not addressed by the attitude questionnaire, which motivate parents to home school.
Home School Parent Interviews
The primary method of investigation was the personal interview with both home school and non-home school parents. In reviewing the responses that home schooling parents gave during the personal interview, several important conclusions may be drawn.
For this group of parents, there remained no single reason for home schooling. Overall there were nine reasons parents cited for home schooling. For most parents it was a combination of factors which finally led them to home school (see Table 1).
Most of the 9 reasons that home school parents gave for beginning to home schooling were applicable to the public schools. Interviews indicated that most parents believed that the public schools were failing to meet the academic, emotional, social, and in some cases spiritual needs of their child. They had very little faith in the public school system and its ability to educate children.
With regard to private religious schools, home school parents cited academic failure, academic pressure, peer pressure, personality changes in the child, and special problems of the child as reasons for not enrolling. While the parents viewed these private religious schools with esteem, they still felt they were unable to meet the needs of their child.
The reasons parents gave for beginning to home school were not always the same reasons that kept them home schooling (see Table 2). As parents home schooled, they became aware of new factors of which they were not originally aware. The most surprising of these and the most commonly noted by home school parents was a new sense of family unity and socialization. Just as parents had no single reason for beginning to home school, however, they had no single reason for continuing to home school.
Table 1. Number, Percentage and Sample Quotation of Parents Citing Each of Nine Reasons For Beginning to Home School.
REASON OF PARENTS OF PARENTS
1. Values Conflict Between Home and School 52 15
As the kids got older, you look around and you say you see so many of these traits you don’t like to see in kids you know. They are sassing back their parents and I wasn’t too worried with drugs at that point just the kid’s attitude. As time went on, I started worrying about drugs and I guess I was really concerned about whether I really knew what these teachers are teaching my children. I have certain philosophies. I want my children to be helpful around the community. I don’t always want them to go to Magic Mountain, Disneyland or whatever. So I just didn’t quite like some of input.
…At that time when I took her out in seventh grade she was faced with drugs and with two girls in her class, incest. You know, I’m saying why does my kid have to face this stuff? Why can’t she stay innocent for awhile.
2. Personality Changes in the Child 38 11
He was a frustrated child. His personality …. was taking a nose dive. He just would cry and there was a lot of anger there. We really had to do something.
You know, he wouldn’t look at anybody in the eye, he wouldn’t talk to people, he wouldn’t talk to us, he would look down, you know, and no communication through the eyes or any way. He didn’t want to talk to you, just leave him alone, you know?
3. Parents Dissatisfied with School Quality 38 11
Well, my main reason for home schooling is purely academic…. I put my son in school for the first and second grade and home school for kindergarten just to give him a good base in phonics for reading and we were very disappointed with the school system, especially in the second grade; we had some real problems. And that’s what prompted us to pull him out of third and keep my daughter home from kindergarten on. She has never been in the school system. So it’s purely academic. The school system failed my son. I just couldn’t allow that to happen.
4. Outside Influences 38 11
My personal friends ….decided to home school. We formed our own little support group and it was wonderful. After that we started hearing Mike Smith, and people who are home schooling and receive the teaching home magazines and we started realizing that there are different reasons why people home school.
5. Parents Feel a Sense of Duty 24 7
… it turned out that we really felt that our priorities were changing ….and we really believe that God had mandated the training of the child to parents. Parents have felt that they’re unqualified so they had then deferred that training to someone else. They believe that maybe they should develop character in the home but when it comes to the academics that belongs to someone else. We question why and we know very well that we are as qualified if not more so than some of the teachers that are teaching these kids. So we sort of developed our perspective from Proverbs “train up a child in the way he should go”. That became part of the training. No one separated the religious from the secular. Even the Jews, if you study their history, they didn’t send their children to school until they were after twelve years old. All that initial training was in the home.
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(Table 1 continued)
REASON OF PARENTS OF PARENTS
6. Child Has Special Problems 24 7
… But when it came time for him to go to school I thought well I’ll have him tested and make sure that he’s ready to start school. I had him tested …. and he did have some problems. He was real behind on his development. She recommended that he take gymnastic lessons for his development.
…well, at the lessons they said he needs more than we can deal with. So they recommended another place where he was further tested and had a year of sensory motor training. So that was the year that I had thought I was holding him out of school.
…[He was] slow in his development. He was two and a half when he began to walk. I felt I could keep his self esteem intact by teaching him at home rather than having go into a classroom and not being able to keep up with thirty kids.
7. Financial Constraints, Conveniences and Availability 21 6
…the administrators at that school decided that it wasn’t economically viable and they were going to close it next year, …so that left me looking all over…. for another school and I haven’t found one yet that really seemed right for either of the children.
…we discovered that we had a lot more flexibility in his kind of work where we never know whether we’re going to take off for six months, a year or whatever. We don’t want their education interrupted every time we change, neither do we want to not be a family because he’s got to work at a different state somewhere. So that was probably the main reason we started…
8. Lack of Parental Control 17 5
So at that point I thought this is kind of silly to plead for a child and then let somebody else raise them for essentially eight hours a day. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
She would leave here by eight-twenty a.m. plus it takes time for her to get ready to leave so there’s not much input. She’s up by six-thirty a.m. and home by three-thirty p.m. and has two to three hours of study in seventh grade. It’s crazy! There’s no time to climb a tree, mow the lawn or just simply read a book.
9. Child Not Academically Successful 14 4
We were unhappy with what we were seeing with our child at school even though he was in a private school. We found that he was getting behind in school and the size of the class wasn’t giving him any individual attention, so therefore he was getting further and further behind…
The main inconvenience cited by home schooling parents was time. The main hardship was financial. This financial hardship was in the area of costs for books, supplies, and in loss of income.
Parents were asked how their children would grow and mature if they could not home school. Almost all parents projected some kind of failure for their children. Parents believed that their children were missing very little or nothing by not attending a traditional school. While they admitted that there might be a few elements their children were missing, they felt that the benefits of home schooling far outweighed and compensated for this.
Home schooling families expressed that they had experienced mixed reactions from friends and outside family members concerning their decision to home school. Family members, however, seemed the most opinionated. They were either strongly in favor or strongly against home schooling. Friends and neighbors may have been equally opinionated but they did not often voice their beliefs.
According to home schooling parents, their children all greatly enjoyed being home schooled. Children who had never been enrolled in a public or private school expressed some curiosity and desire to attend school. However the consensus was that these children had little or no desire to attend traditional schools.
Average home school days varied in length and structure. According to parents the curriculum was also diverse and flexible. Many parents said they evolved to a less structured, more child centered curriculum over time.
In general, home school parents said they were satisfied with their program, but always on the lookout as to how they could improve.
Non-Home School Parent Interviews
Most non-home school parents held some kind of skepticism about home schooling. They listed five disadvantages to home schooling (see Table 3).
The greatest concern was in the area of socialization. Non-home school parents feared that home school children would somehow be stunted in their social development as a result of their social isolation. They felt children were missing something by not being part of a regular school environment. Some non-home school parents had interaction with home school children. They observed them to be wanting in the area of social interaction and friendship.
It is interesting to note that social interaction was a concern for both home school and non-home school parents. However, home school parents said they became aware of the unique socialization availed by home schooling, including what they said was greater family interaction and family unity. According to them, this served as a contributing factor in their decision to continue home schooling. Thus while both groups of parents were initially concerned about social interaction, home schooling parents began to see it as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
The second greatest concern was academics. Non-home school parents questioned the ability of home school parents to provide a quality educational program for their children. Non-home school parents also listed three other concerns that they had. These included the large time commitment that home schooling demanded, the conflicts between parent and child, and the economic cost of the program.
While non-home school parents were critical of home schooling, a small number recognized advantages. Seventeen percent (3 parents) saw the advantage of one-on-one or small group teaching, and 11% (2 parents) saw other special benefits such as parents being able to be learn more about the personalities of their children through in-depth interaction.
Most non-home school parents would not consider home schooling. Some had considered the possibility but were presently convinced that they would not home school. Another small group of parents said that if they were forced by some situation or circumstance they would home school. Non-home school parents had concerns about the schools available to them. With regard to public schools, non-home school parents said that they were concerned most often with the religious void created by these schools. They also saw a conflict between the values of the home and the school. However, they felt that this was a learning opportunity and that it was not a problem that could not be overcome.
Non-home school parents had a high opinion of the religious schools available to them. Some parents thought, however, the schools could be over-protective and another group thought that they could be too academically demanding.
Non-home school parents were not overly impressed with private nonreligious schools. They recognized the academic strength of these schools but felt concern about a religious void they perceived to be present at these school. The high financial cost of these private schools also served as a deterrent.
Although not completely satisfied with the schools available to them, non-home school parents said they
did not feel they were confronted with issues and concerns they could not overcome. They believed strongly in the ability of their children to grow and mature as well-rounded persons, even within the limitations of the school systems available to them. These parents said they encouraged and supported their children and
Table 2. Number, Percentage and Sample Quotation of Parents Citing Each of Seven Reasons For Continuing to Home School.
REASON OF PARENTS OF PARENTS
1. Family Unity and Socialization 31 9
There is one thing that I think is a bonus, is that there’s a real harmony in our family, a real peace. ….You look at other families….there’s no peace, the mother is not in control whatsoever. The father is watching football and the kid’s run the households. There’s just no harmony. The kids have no sense of security, which is the driving force. That is a bonus, it’s not something we told them to “be peaceful!” It’s something you can’t teach a child, it has to come from within.
2. Flexibility of Home Schooling 28 8
It’s given us a lot of flexibility too. Like last year we were going through the school year and then we decided about 3/4 or way through that we were going to Norway this summer so I quit teaching basically everything that would consider standard stuff and we started studying Norway, a little bit of Norwegian and the food and they’re much more formal country and we started practicing those different thing that we needed to know. It was wonderful. If they would of been in school I would of had to push harder in after school hours and it would of been more tight and stressful for them and it really wasn’t that. It was a wonderful time.
3. Emotional Healing of the Child 21 6
She’s become a relaxed child. She’s able to sleep at night. She has good self-esteem at this point, which she did not have before. She is a good student. She has her bad days like anybody does but on the average she is a good student. She gives me extra effort for which I’m really thankful for which we didn’t have to start with. She didn’t want to give anybody any effort, it wasn’t worth it. We’ve seen her grow up. She’s nine years old and in the last six months we’ve seen her become a little girl instead of a baby.
4. Parental Control 14 4
The biggest advantage is that I have total control over the type of materials he learns, and we incorporate our Christian beliefs into their school so that they have a real awareness of the Lord and they grow in their understanding of how important the Lord is to us, my husband and I.
5. Academic Success 14 4
Since she had been home she began reading fluently in the third grade, pretty much on her own and she got involved in some books she liked and now she can’t get her face out of a book…. Last year at the end of the year we had her tested with the IOWA skills and she tested, fourth, fifth and sixth grade level which is ideal and perfect. I was so glad.
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Table 2 continued.
REASON OF PARENTS OF PARENTS
6. Parent Enjoys Being with the Child 14 4
I guess I became aware of the fact that I really enjoyed my kids. I always had this longing to be a mother for years. It took a long time for me to conceive and have a baby. So I started feeling that gosh, it’s sad to get to the point where they’re five or six years old and you’re really starting to have a lot of fun going and doing things with them and they’re learning, they’re fun to talk to too. The toddling years are fun too but you can’t do as much as you want to. So why would you want to at this point send them off for six hours a day, most of their day, when you’re just finally getting to enjoy each other’s company.
..I enjoy the kids, I don’t see why anybody would want to send their kids to school.
7. Parents Learning About the Child 7 2
I’ll tell you what, if you spend as much time with your kids as I spend with mine, you really learn what your children are all about. Where as my others had them fooled in school….you really know from “A” to “Z” on your children, there’s no excuse, there’s no backing out. You’re aware of their flaws and you know what you need to work on.
Parents, in this study, who choose to educate their children at home do so for many reasons. Common to these parents is the belief that the traditional schools available to them are not meeting the needs of the total child. Parents say that they feel the school system is failing to preserve traditional values. These parents see the traditional school as encouraging the decline of the nuclear family. In addition, they see their children being introduced to pluralistic values which often conflict with the personal values they hold. Coupled with this, parents are dissatisfied with the quality of education they see. Teachers and academic programs are held suspect in the minds of many of these parents.
Home school parents, in this study, do not appear to have taken the decision to home school lightly. Often they have carefully examined the alternatives available to them and have found them unacceptable. Their decision to home school comes only after great forethought and questioning.
Currently, traditional schools reflect the beliefs of a diverse society. Clearly, however, the rights and needs of some home school parents are not being addressed by traditional school systems.
One possible alternative would be to suggest that educational policy be formulated which recognizes home schooling not as a problem, but as a solutionCa way to meet the needs of a diverse society. Traditional educational systems would then be free to expand their boundaries and embrace home schooling as a reasonable alternative for some parents.
As in every movement involving children, there will be the ignorant, the incompetent, the neglectful, and the abusive. Most studies completed on home schooling to date, however, have cited the concern, dedication, and competence of home school parents as educators. There is little reason to suggest that home school children are receiving a sub-par education. Arguments focusing on social isolation have yet to completely examine the unique socializing dynamics at work in home school families.
Another possible consideration is that legislation be enacted which teams with home school parents to provide assistance to them. Requiring parents to be credentialed or attempts to direct curriculum, however, may be counterproductive. Such legislation might force home school parents underground.
Educational policy makers should continue to investigate the impact of home schooling on children. The emphasis of this inquiry, however, should be broadened somewhat to embrace
strategies of openness, partnership and reconciliation between both traditional and nontraditional forms of education.
Table 3. Number, Percentage and Sample Quotation of Non-Home School Parents Citing Disadvantages to Home Schooling
DISADVANTAGES OF PARENTS OF PARENTS
1. Socially Isolating 61 11
My only other concern in observing kids that are home schooled, our experience with kids in Sunday School, both kids, some were home schooled and some were not, seeing how they interact. The majority of them just seem a little bit socially handicapped, more than the other kids. …They keep to themselves. We had a children’s church so it was first through sixth grade. They didn’t mingle well with kids older than them or if they had siblings and they were together because of the grade span that we’re dealing with, they always stay together because they’re home together and they feel safe together and they didn’t interact with other kids as much. I’m sure there are things you can do about that if you get involved in social things like church or physical stuff. You have to be real disciplined to get them involved in organized athletics, sports and things like that. I don’t know if I am up to do it.
2. Academically Questionable 44 8
My impression is that probably a lot of people are doing it right now that maybe shouldn’t be doing it. That’s my opinion. …not necessarily knowing what they should be teaching their child.
3. A Large Time Commitment 39 7
… I think it requires a considerable effort on both the husband and the wife and they have to work together toward that goal and it takes a great deal of organization skills and it takes a definite unselfishness on the part of the mother and both parents, because a lot of things won’t get done in the house. You have to be willing to give up free time, certain things you get to do when your children are in school. You have to take the whole family, too, during the day, it takes sacrifices that you would make for the education of your child when you’re solely responsible.
4. Conflicts Between Parent and Child 28 5
My overall impression and my first reaction to it is that I personally would not have the patience to do it. I think it takes a very special type of person to be able to educate their children. I know I don’t have the patience. I do well to get through the homework. I couldn’t imagine a half day of that or more at home. I know I can’t.
5. Economically Costly 11 2
…it was an economic factor. I needed to get out to work because at that time my husband was changing jobs, so that was something along the way.
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