According a 2010 study titled “Historical Changes in Stay-at-Home Moms: 1969 to 2009,” black mothers are half as likely to remain in-home with their children as opposed to working full-time outside the home. This isn’t a new or surprising revelation to those of us who’ve grown up watching generation after generation of matriarchs leave the home to help provide income for their children. But what’s less examined in the black community are the differences in parenting styles among black women who do opt to stay-at-home–particularly among those who do so as single parents or as parents whose income doesn’t allow for many conventional comforts.

Single stay-at-home moms are an even smaller subset, as it’s rare to find work-from-home employment lucrative enough to make the option possible. But a few mothers are able to manage it. One is blogger Ani Lacy, who chronicles raising a son with special needs at her personal site and on Twitter. Lacy decided to homeschool her son, to ensure that he receives the individualized care and attention he needs to intellectually thrive. She believes in simple, sustainable living, which prioritizes homemaking over financial gain. Recently, she embarked on a campaign to take their at-home classroom on the road. She began raising money to buy an RV so that she and her son could “roadschool,” which is a growing trend among homeschooling parents.

Roadschooling” is the practice of educating by way of extended road trip. The idea is to allow the child to learn about different regions and cultures and practices by seeing them firsthand. In addition to roadschooling, “unschooling” is another learning style on the rise. Unschooling is allowing your child to find his or her own interests and to be educated through a daily practice of self-exploration. With less oversight than the traditional homeschooling model, roadschooling and unschooling have come under protest and debate. Each state has homeschooling laws that parents/home-educators must adhere to. Parents to ascribe to either of these more unconventional models are still expected to meet those requirements.

It would seem that if no harm’s being done to the child, each parent should be able to define the educational and rearing style that works best for her own child. But what happens in a community or extended family unit that is unaccustomed to parenting that’s a bit left-of-the-middle? If choosing to stay at home is an unconventional choice, homeschooling is even more unexpected–and roadschooling or unschooling can be nearly unfathomable.

Extended family has a penchant for sticking its nose into parents’ choices. Whether it’s their decision to raise a vegan or vegetarian child, a resistance to perm, a neighborhood the family finds questionable, or language the child’s allowed to use, we’re used to aunts, grandmothers, and cousins chiming in. But sometimes, “chiming in” crosses a line.

It certainly has for Lacy, whose latest blog entries and tweets have chronicled a series of police and social service visits prompted by her extended family’s complaints about her parenting. The complaints followed their discovery of her intent to roadschool. The situation escalated until her son was forcibly removed from the home for seven days, while an investigation into her mothering ensues. Despite a lack of evidence, save the dangerous accusations of three family members’ who haven’t seen Lacy or her son in a year (and thus have not witnessed any of the misconduct alleged, during that time), Lacy’s custody was rather easily stripped.

It’s an extreme and tragic case that raises a series of concerns. Should unconventional parenting choices be grounds for involving social services? Should concerns over practices with which you’re unfamiliar lead you to call a parent’s competency into question? Should a lack of interest in earning more money than is absolutely necessary to fulfill your personal parenting objectives (like roadschooling), be grounds for serious concern and accusation?

In less severe cases, where the law is not involved, extended family’s policing of non-customary parenting practices can still lead to accusations, threats and heartache. If you’ve ever heard someone admonish, “You’re gonna turn him into…” or “She’s going to be _______, if you keep _______,” then you know how difficult it can be for a parent defend her choices among family who believe they know better.

<Were you raised in a way considered unconventional by your family? Is another family member raising their child in a way that isn’t “the norm?” How is the extended family handling it? 

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  • Roadschooling as part of discovery-learning-immersion is well documented courtesy of http://barenakedfamily.com. CPS can be very predatory if you are poor, or different, unorthodox, and if you are all of the above and of color, it’s even more magnified! And the supreme court recently ruled (in my own sister’s case) that the state (via CPS of your city of residence) can terminate your rights and there is no obligation for counsel to be provided as there is in criminal charges. My family has been torn apart by poverty, exploitation, war, and there is no point in being a cog-in-the-wheel. Most public schools are full of violence, overcrowding, bullying, and mediocre (at best) administrators and teachers, and that will not close the gap in our performance internationally. But perhaps effective and open learning styles and engaged parents whose sole purpose isn’t solely to work out of necessity, or choice, or oppress others will.

    Most people want to be great parents, great peers, just like most teachers want to be great teachers, but then the oppressive or exploitative natures of others, business and the state get in the way more than they help.

    When I wrote my book Rebel Moms which features over 50 rad moms sharing it all to help others rock motherhood, some shared the same fear that CPS or busy bodies would cause disruption in their lives or that of their children due to un-schooling, veganism,being heavily tattooed, being poor, being sexy, being Buddhist, being awesome, and well we see their fear was valid. I just hope Ani knows we’ve got her back!

    Davina Rhine aka Rebel Mom

  • TM

    as of today Ani still has not had her son returned. Her Blog and Twitter accounts are active again And a petition is in action to try and get her son returned.

  • CM

    There’s much more to this story than people realize. Ani gives unschooling, and black stay at home moms a bad name. I’m really amazed at how gullible people are. Don’t you know by now that you can be anything you want online? Ani had a private twitter account, and there she spoke of how she hated her son. Wondering why she had to be the one to raise a special needs child, wishing she had aborted him when she had the chance. She also talked about leaving him home alone with peanut butter, cartoons, and melatonin(a natural sleep aid). She also talked about how she wished someone would call CPS and take him from her. I wish I had took screen caps of these conversations. If you go back far enough in her blog, she talks about how she left him alone as an infant while she ran to the store. Yes, Ms. Ani has a lot of people fooled. CPS won’t show up at your door at midnight to take your child unless they have serious concerns. She got what she wished for! Oh, and the reason she’s roadschooling….she is being evicted. Why? Because she quit her job. You see, she’s not like the rest of us. She’s a single mom with a special needs child that doesn’t need to work. It wouldn’t surprise me if she removed those posts from her blog. Gotta keep up apperances. I wish more people who know of her shenanigans would come forward. There are red flags all over the place. Wake up people!

    • S

      I read the same tweets on the same private account. Old blog posts etc. I don’t think her son should have been removed. He is not abused. He has not been neglected. He is loved. He is cared for.

      What she tweeted was what she was feeling at that time. She was at wits end and with no support of any kind she wrote what she was thinking and feeling—-not what she was doing. If one cares about these things, and is truly concerned about a child? You do not condemn the mother who tweets she needs help. Instead you reach out and try to help however you can.

      No one is being fooled. Just because someone is distraught and stressed, overburdened with the demands of single parenthood, without the village, without the help they were promised when told by family they should keep their child, doesn’t make them a bad parent. It doesn’t mean their child should be ripped out of their bed short of midnight and kept from a loving parent. Many of us have wished we had not given birth, aborted, given up our children for adoption, many of us have met that wall of desperation where we feel we are not good enough for our children and want someone, anyone to come help us, take them away. Then we get past it and we move on, we get better. We focus on other goals to solve our problems. Like road schooling.

      There is injustice here.

      North Carolina has a lot of programs already in place to support mothers like Ani but it rarely applies them to situations involving the poor. North Carolina is actually well known for removing children from poverty stricken, minority homes for reasons less than ones given to Ani for the removal of her son.

      Please believe that CPS removes children for far less than what was reported about Ani. Unconventional parenting, homeschooling? According to the HSDLA are causes for removal every single day in the US. A child in Albany, NY was just returned (finally) due simply because the parents chose to homeschool, paperwork was misfiled by the state so the child was taken out of the home.

      It happens. All the time. The government is not always right, it is actually often wrong. It abuses power. We all know this. There are better ways to help children like Nick and their mothers like Ani. The disproportionate number of Black and other children of color in foster care says quite a lot about who the government deems to be suitable parents and who it doesn’t. Being unconventional, Black and a single woman? Can and will take your children away.

  • C

    Lots of people tried to reach out to help her. We were sending private messages back and forth asking if anyone heard from her yet. Those tweets weighed heavy on me, and they still do. It bothers me that when we offered help she never responded. How many times to you offer help and suggestions to someone and they continue to ignore you, or shoot you down before you give up? It seems she only wanted a certain kind of help. I knew if I finally spoke up someone would tell me how wrong I am about her. Something just isn’t adding up, and I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, or thinking it.

  • me

    People are also forgetting that Ani’s plan to run away with the child was calculated to deprive the child’s father the right to see him. That is reason enough to put the brakes on her plan. She is not the victim here.

    • The father lives in another state, tho. So, how exactly is she running away from him?