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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