Second career: Professional women take on home schooling

Drs. Steven and Susan Coss with their children, Jennifer, 8, Catherine, 10, and Steven, 7, examine a sheep’s heart as part of their home-schooling curriculum. The heart was detached from the lungs and trachea which are being held by Steven. Dr. Susan Coss gave up her medical practice to home school her children.

By LISA REICOSKY Repository Living section writer

JACKSON TWP. –– Dr. Susan Coss left a fulfilling medical practice to become a teacher. So did Colleen Parker, a registered nurse, and Diane McAndrew, who was a vice president at Fitness Quest.

All three women, who happen to live on the same street, left their busy careers to home school their children.

Each cited a variety of reasons for leaving careers they loved, and discussed different emotions they felt after making the decision.

‘Justify my value’

“I had a real identity crisis at first. My identity was gone,” said Coss, who put her license in escrow and will have to prove she has kept up her skills in order to reactivate it. “I loved being a doctor.”

Because of her belief that society doesn’t always appreciate the value of stay-at-home mothers or those who home school, she said she often identified herself as a doctor.

“I felt that I had to justify my value,” she explained. “I still do it, especially when I’m around other doctors. I shouldn’t need to feel that way, but I do.”

Coss is around other doctors often because her husband, Steven, is also a physician.

“He’s been my biggest fan,” Susan said.

Steven said he initially was surprised by his wife’s decision to home school five years ago, when the family lived in Florida, because she had never discussed the idea.

Their eldest daughter, Catherine, was scheduled to start first grade. Susan had spent the last eight months getting her Florida medical license and was set to return to work. She also holds licenses in California and Ohio. The family made several moves over the years as both Steven and Susan began their medical careers in the Navy.

“Two weeks before school started, I was convicted that I was going to home school. God wanted me to do this,” she said. “I saw it as a calling.”

She said that the poor reputation of Florida’s school system coupled with her desire to teach the children about Jesus Christ and the Bible made her conviction stronger.

Now living in Jackson Township where she said the schools are “great,” Susan continues homeschooling Catherine, who is now 11, along with Jennifer, 8, and Steven Jr., 7, for religious reasons.

While she misses her practice at times, she said she is happy with her decision.

“I miss it when I’m around other physicians — that camaraderie, the mental stimulation of it — but, I don’t feel like I am sacrificing.”

“I’m blessed in ways I hadn’t anticipated,” she said. She has relearned history and other subjects she had forgotten as she taught her children every day. She also acknowledges being fortunate to be able to afford staying home.

“There are a lot of people who are making true sacrifices in order to homeschool,” she said.

Susan said that she replaces the mentally challenging aspects of being a doctor by challenging herself in other ways.

“If you have a desire to learn, there will always be a challenge,” she said.

Her latest “self project” was a six-week speed-reading course at the Summit County Library. It was a way to keep up with the children’s reading assignments.

Across the street, Colleen Parker, a former registered nurse, homeschools her youngest son of three, Reed, while his two older brothers attend Heritage Christian School. Seth, a sophomore, and Quinn, an eighth-grader, were both homeschooled through the seventh grade.

The transition to high school went well, she said, with one exception. They needed to learn to raise their hand before speaking.

For Parker, the decision to homeschool was also based on her desire to teach religion and shape her boys’ characters. Her husband Steve, a local dentist, needed convincing.

“I honestly prayed about it,” she said. “I said, ‘Please make me know I can do this and change my husband’s heart.’ ”

She continued, “One day he said he thought we should try it.”

She cut her nursing hours to part-time after her second son was born, often working a 3 to 11 p.m. shift. When she became pregnant with her third and was homeschooling her oldest, she decided to give up her nursing career altogether.

“I felt like I was being torn, “ she explained. “Homeschooling was hard. I was dragging myself off to work. It was a hard decision, but I knew it was the right one.”

Ten years later, Parker said she still misses her career and anticipates returning in a few years with great excitement.

“Honestly, there are times when I wish I didn’t do what I do,” she said. “But I know what I’m doing here is so good and important. It overrides the drive to be in the workplace.”

“You don’t get a lot of praise at home,” she went on to say. “But through the years those things have become less and less important. I gain a lot of satisfaction doing what I do.”

Recently, Parker was asked to coach a soccer team and she had doubts about whether she should try it. The encouragement she received from her son Seth was worth more than a paycheck.

“He said, ‘Mom, you could do that. You’re a good teacher.’ ” Parker said. “I felt good about that.”

As vice president of new products for Fitness Quest, a direct-response marketing company based in Canton, Diane McAndrew enjoyed a jet-set life of traveling abroad and meeting new people. Later, after her three children were born, she quit in order to spend more time with them. She started her own consulting business from home, which still involved long hours and travel.

By the time her oldest, Gabrielle, now 11, was ready to begin second grade, McAndrew had spent two years of contemplating the homeschooling idea.

“I realized the years go by and soon they’d be gone,” she said. “I’d be able to have a direct influence on their lives by homeschooling.”

She now homeschools 9-year-old Michael and 7-year-old Christian along with Gabrielle. Her husband Michael is president of a wholesale distribution company.

McAndrew said she initially missed the lifestyle she had before homeschooling took over, but she has no regrets.

“It was the right decision for me,” she said, who adds that she has many friends who do a great job of juggling both career and kids. “It’s a personal decision.”

As are the other two families, the McAndrews are living with their decision to homeschool year by year. They keep their children socially active with outside music lessons, sports, art, and field trips with other homeschooled children. McAndrew said her children have the option of going to school, but are happy at home for now.

Like most parents, she said she has little time for herself, but “before long those days will be gone.”

“I didn’t think I could be fulfilled, but my days are very full — even more hectic than before,” McAndrew said.

She said she hopes that by sharing her experience, other women who may be contemplating the move from job to homeschooling may be encouraged.

“I would have loved the assurance,” she said. “It’s not for everyone, but you can be fulfilled and you can be happy and content.”