The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

Somewhere between “Never say never” and “Are you nuts?”

Have you ever looked back at your life and been in complete awe of how it has unfolded? I know I have…a lot. If you had asked me ten years ago what my life would look like a decade later, I would never, in a million years, said it would resemble anything like it does.

A wife…no surprise, we all knew I would be with Daryl forever.

A mom of two…not really a surprise either…I love kids and actually taught for years before having them.

A professional photographer running a thriving studio and traveling all over the place…nope didn’t see that one coming.

A homeschool mom…wait a minute…really a “homeschool mom”? Where the heck did that come from? Aren’t you supposed to wear a dress all the time and have hair like Loretta Lynn if you are going to do that? (Nothing against Loretta Lynn, after all, I really did love her hair when I was little but that is a whole other topic)

So yep, here I sit with my crazy…never a dull moment…full of laughter…amazing life. Maybe the universe, God or whoever the heck is running the show does indeed have a sense of humor. Most have one of three questions when they meet me or drop me an e-mail. The questions go something like this:

  • “How in the world do you manage to run a business and homeschool?!”
  • “Are you nuts?
  • “You what? Oh really? What about socialization?” (every homeschool parent hears this last one at least three times a week πŸ˜‰

Walk with me –

It all started my daughter’s first year of kindergarten. It turns out I had passed down a terrible trait to her – Dyslexia. We knew that chances were one of the kids would end up with it. As I mentioned before, I used to teach before having children of my own. One of the things I taught, once upon a lifetime ago, was Reading Recovery. Who better to teach reading than someone who had a huge struggle learning to read herself?

I LOVED my kids school…loved it! Small private catholic school. Amazing teachers and families. But I knew that what she would need was above what they could offer. The same was true as for our public school system. It wasn’t the future that I wanted for her. I can remember sitting in the car crying with all the guilt of the world, knowing the struggle that was ahead of her, recalling the feelings that come with dyslexia/learning disabilities. Remembering the self confidence issues I experienced throughout school was enough for me to know I could not put her through that if I had an option.

And I did have an option. Homeschooling.

I had only been back to work full-time for the year she had gone to school full-time. I have had the studio since she was a baby, but always worked it part-time. My business exploded that year. I was shooting for 2 magazines with 20+ magazine covers under my belt. I traveled to Mexico and Jamaica to shoot weddings. My career was well…a booming career. Could I really give up my career and go back home to not only be full-time mom again, but also add the title of teacher? How would I not completely mess them up?

Daryl and I spent a good 6 months researching the option. Our son was having issues with anxiety in school and was so unhappy. He had been begging to homeschool since he started kindergarten. I had previously spent time teaching him before K and he remembered it as “so much fun!”. So we knew he would love it. But Haley we knew would be harder to convince…she loved her friends and the social part. What girl doesn’t?

When we decided to take the plunge we said we would do it for a year. Get everybody straight and on track. I would put my business back to part-time. Only shooting 2 days a week and working evenings. And then life happened once again the way it always does. It turns out homeschooling wasn’t even close to what I thought it would be. I was sure that we would stick out like a sore thumb within our area’s large homeschooling community. We do not belong to a church currently…just never found one we liked after we moved across town. I dress rather trendy most days. I work outside the home often out of the area/state. I do drive a mini van so that was on my side! right? Let me tell you there are a lot of stereotypes that I have found to be soooo wrong.

The first thing I did was join as many local Yahoo forums with other local homeschoolers as possible. We joined a co-op for additional classes (kind of like kiddy college..they get to take various classes through out the year). We joined homeschool gymnastics and softball, took field trips even went to homeschool skate days at the local roller skating rink. Before we knew it,we had friends! The kids soon had all the same friendships and even more activities as they did in traditional school. It was NOTHING like what I thought it would be. And here’s the kicker – they were learning! Haley actually started to read! Granted, she is no speed reader but she is doing great! Adam…well he has actually skipped half of third grade and jumped to fourth early. With homeschooling, the best part is I can meet them where they are with their curriculum. If they aren’t “getting” a subject we stay on it until they do.

So when the choice had to be made whether to go back to traditional school or homeschool again this year, the kids made the call and “Homeschool!” it was.

The women (and men) that I have met via homeschooling are hands down my heroes. They are some of the most amazing, strong, intelligent people I have ever been around. They push me to be a better person, mother and friend. I could surely not have gotten through the last few years with out their support and help in answering all of my gazillion questions. Are there a few nuts in the bunch? Uhmmm yeah, but show me a group where there are not. It has been an amazing journey for sure, one I will remember fondly.

About the career….we parents give up so much for our kids don’t we? When I mentor new photographers, especially women, the first thing I tell them is your family HAS to come first. Your kids are going to grow up and they are going to leave the nest. Your camera will still be there. You only get one chance to give your children a fantastic childhood. There are NO do-overs. Make sure they have good memories. Memories are what are going to get you and them through life’s bad days.

I am a strong believer in the theory that if you do something, anything, for the right, authentic reasons and with a positive attitude then only good things will come from it. This theory has yet to fail me. A happy spirit goes along way in life πŸ˜‰

I was positive that my business would dwindle away. I mean how much could I actually do with only two days a week to shoot? The business has been just fine. I made sure my pricing was correct (this was huge) and time management has been key. My clients are AMAZING. They have been so supportive. I have been floored by editors that have gone out of their way to work around my schedule (God bless them!). I have had clients tell me to bring my kids, that they would rather the kids come with than for me to NOT do a session for their kids! Granted, I have yet to really do that because I do want to stay professional but just the kindness and understanding with the offer leaves me speechless (that doesn’t happen!)

Yes the universe puts these roads in front of you and Lord only knows were I will be 10 years from now. But I know one thing for sure – my family will have some amazing memories…amazing. My children are each other’s best friend. They are the sweetest kids I know and our relationship is strong from all the time we spend together. Our home will always be their “soft place to fall”.

Do you have to homeschool to create fantastic family memories? Heck no! It isn’t always about quantity of time but quality.

So a photographer can not make a post without pictures…it would just be wrong! I recently made a video for our family of some of the field trips from the last 6 months or so and thought “what the heck”, why not share it with the world? Keep in mind these are my family’s snapshots, so not always the fanciest, but you can have a glimpse into what life is like in the Mccuiston Academy:-)

Field Trips 09 from Tisha Mccuiston on Vimeo.

About Tisha

Tisha often refers to herself as the most Un-traditional Traditionalist she knows. A homeschooling, gardening, color-loving, photographer - Tisha currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children. Her fabulous work can be viewed on her website, Tisha McCuiston Photography.

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  • Liz


    What a beautiful article. I actually find myself in tears just reading it & watching the video. I think I needed to see it could be done with a career! I loved your story & thanks for sharing your experiences & how it came to be your school of choice from here on out.

    I will continue to do my research & then hopefully make a well thought out decision that is best for me & my child. Thanks again!

  • Julie Stephens

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  • stacey woods

    Great post, Tisha! I applaud you for homeschooling and doing it all, no matter if you bucked certain stereotypes or not. πŸ˜‰ Loved your video!

  • Karen

    Thank you for your reply!! I appreciate that you took the time out to fully explain how you make it work. Thanks again.

  • Jaime Fleming

    Tisha, wow! so many beautiful images! i wish my pics from my shoots were as nice as your \\"snapshots!\\"

    i have been contemplating home schooling since my son was born nearly 4 years ago. i waver back and forth, and usually get myself fairly convinced on one point or the other every few months. i don\\\’t doubt home schooling and it\\\’s wonderfulness in the least- rather, i doubt myself. i know i have the ability to do it. i have a CDA in early childhood and worked in a child development center for 4 years, so i \\\’get\\\’ how kids work. this is is one of the reasons i believe in home schooling. i know kids aren\\\’t wired to sit at a desk all day. kids learn by doing. my hang-up with with the idea is that i fear that i would be lax and not follow through. seeing your slideshow sparked the fire within me once again. i am going to \\\’practice\\\’ home schooling here on the days my son is not at preschool. we\\\’ll see how long i can stick with it. maybe i\\\’ll surprise myself. maybe i am able to handle babysitting, photography, and home schooling.

    thanks for your post. it was very enjoyable and your passion for your kids\\\’ education is contagious! thanks for sharing it with the world.

  • Beckey

    Looks great! Thanks for sharing.

  • Christi Traster

    Awesome post, Tisha! Love love LOVED it – you’re pretty darn fantastic, you know? :)

    Muuuuaaaaaah! xoxo xoxo xoxo

  • tisha

    Karen not a crazy question at all!
    I am lucky enough to have my best friend as a nanny. She lives with us but works out of the house. She takes Monday’s and Sunday’s off from her other job and babysits for me on Monday’s. Some weeks it gets a little jumbled. Especially this time of year with Fall pictures but on regular months I shoot on Sunday’s (when hubby is off) and Monday’s when Jill is off. I could not do it without them and I have several friends that I exchange childcare with often. It is a constant juggle though and I think we all always struggle to keep balance.

    I try (try being the key word) and stay away from the computer between the hours of 9:30am ish and 8pm Tuesday-Sat. so I can try and keep focused on the kids. Not easy to do everyday but it is “the goal”. I do pop onto my Facebook and Twitter account via my iphone through out the day when I am waiting on the kids at practice or co-op etc… I spend to many nights up very late catching up on work but I really just don’t want the kids to remember me as the mom that was always on the computer and working all the time.

    As far as school…my nanny knows the kids schedules inside and out. She has lived with us for four years now so she is second mommy for sure. Part of the family. She has been so key in the destination work because I know my kids are safe and their life is going on along even with me gone. I am lucky there. She can easily homeschool the kids and knows all their work routines.

    We start school at 9:30 break for lunch around 12 and normally hit hands on stuff after lunch. Like learning games, science and history/ geography. I can normally get through each child’s lessons for the day in 2-4 hours. We keep a consistent schedule so they can try and keep on task and get through it all. Somedays we get through more than :-) Next year I think we are going to switch Adam over completely to an online curriculum Like Switchon Schoolhouse. He has really loved his computer math (teaching textbooks) curriculum this year!

  • tisha

    It is Lynn! The song is Francis England “Little Bright Star”…she is awesome :-)

  • Karen

    I’m curious about how you do your 2 days to work. Do you work on the weekend? Or does someone watch your kids 2 days a week and you HS the other 3? Sorry about this weird questioned, it’s just that I’m trying to find balance but haven’t managed to schedule actual days to work into my week. It seems like I just get 20 minutes here or 20 minutes there!

  • Lynn

    Isn’t homeschooling just the best! We are in our second year and love every single aspect of schooling at home.

    You video was amazing. What is the song? Thanks for sharing!


  • tisha

    Sarah! Hey lady! Good to see you over here :-)
    I did a session for Susie’s twins a couple weeks back and was thinking about you guys! You guys need to have a little one soon so I can work with you again!

    Glad you are enjoying the camera! I am planning on offering a “basics” class for my clients this Winter. You know I am a firm believer in my clients documenting their families and keeping those memories forever via pictures :-)

  • tisha

    Awe!! Thanks for all the support guys! I know many of you know how great it is to know we are not alone with our struggles. Homeschooling is not the easy choice to make but I can say it has been the best choice we have made to date as parents for our family.

    For those struggling with to do it or not and how to get started I suggest doing online searches for support groups in your area. I live in Va and am lucky enough to be in a county that has a huge homeschool population so there are many supports in place to help parents keep the kids actively learning, making friendships, playing sports and basically the support that you do need to pull it off.

    It is not for everyone. You will always have your kids with you and it is much like going back to the early years of being a stay at home mom to little ones…but the good thing is they are very independent. “Mom’s night out” is a must with some good girl friends at least once a week or so πŸ˜‰

  • steadymom

    Another homeschooling mama of three here! I love it and marvel at the fact that life for me and my little people can be this good…


  • Ruth Ann Waugh

    Great post! I work part-time in a drs. office, as a photographer, and am a full-time homeschooling mom! Sure my life is crazy and I don\’t ever stop, but I wouldn\’t trade it for anything. Thanks for showing others what can be done when you set your mind to it!

  • Thea

    This was a wonderful read. Thank you for sharing about your choices and life. Very inspiring

  • Cyndi

    just happened upon this blog yesterday – i am a homeschooling mom/artist to three – we take the same approach you describe. Sometimes it seems so hard to find the balance between “structured” stuff, play, work, my business, and just plain getting along! It has been a tough couple of weeks for us and I so appreciated seeing this blog today! thank you for the reminder of what this is all about. keep the dialogue going – –

  • Sarah Hakkarainen

    Tisha, thanks for sharing with us. I have wondered \"how you do it all\" since meeting you last year. Your are an inspiration and your children are amazing little people. I can\’t wait to work with you again in the future!

    p.s. Thanks for the camera reccomendation. I am having so much fun with it! Best present ever :o)

  • amanda

    as a HSing mama to 4 littles I love this! I’m struggling with trying to balance being mama, teacher, photographer and still find a bit of time for me. It always helps to know you aren’t alone.

  • Wilma Warchol

    The socialization issue always gets me. Sure, peer pressure, bullying are all very important in a growing person’s life. Made me think of that 15 year old who was burned by 5 kids in Florida.

    My daughter (and one and only child) is in preschool and absolutely loves it. Home schooling is always in the back of my mind though.

  • Kirsty-Abu Dhabi

    Wonderful post – the number of times people have suggested I’m odd or crazy cos I have my own business and yet also look after my own kids – wow, what a ludicrous idea!!! I LOVE what I do, but my family come first – they are only small once

  • http:/ Marta

    Tisha…this was a great post! I just love it to pieces. Life’s journey, the kids, what’s important, all of it…and the video too!

  • Launa

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I found myself nodding to just about everything you said… see my kids are un-socialized too! LOL!! I relish the opportunity to have my little loves home with me everyday and watch them grow and learn…..there is always something interesting going on! Most days are a challenge to get it all done, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! :)

  • michele

    thank you for this story i am battling with home schooling with my daughter so this was a little sign i think thanks so much!

  • Liz

    Loved this! :)

  • Bailey

    Thanks for sharing your “journey”. It’s funny how things work…I’ve been considering homeschooling, but have many questions, concerns, and “stereotypes” in my head. I’ve prayed for God to show me more homeschooling families, prove to me that I can/should do this. And here I keep stumbling upon all the fantastic stories such as yours. So thanks for sharing with us…

  • http://GinaCristinePhotography.Com Gina Sandrzyk

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story this morning! Your video was lovely!