Homeschooling: The Important Questions

Recently, I spent some time with a woman musing about homeschooling.  She’s teacher in the public schools, and she feels certain she wants something different for her children, who are still several years away from school-aged.  So she’s considering homeschooling and wanted to pick the brain of someone who was walking that path.  Given the ages of her kids (three and one), her questions wisely aren’t about curriculum.  They’re about surviving, and they cause me to think.

One of her first was, “Do you ever want to kill your kids?”  This is the less-subtle version of, “I could never do this.  It would drive me crazy.”  I answered as I always do to that line of questioning:  “I haven’t eaten my children yet.”  This extreme question and its equally eyebrow-raising response address what is at the heart of what many fear about homeschooling.

I didn’t set out to homeschool my kids.  Four months after my first was born, I returned to work as a physician assistant, although at 20 hours a week.  Honestly, I was desperate to return.  Yes, I liked my job.  And, yes, I loved my son.  But having worked up until the day prior to his birth, the world of the at-home mother overwhelmed me.  Lonely, unconnected, and caught in the time warp common to mothers of their first child, I knew I’d be a better mom if I returned to work. So until my younger was born, four years later, my then-husband and I walked the tightrope between work and home, and we did it fairly well.

But by the time my younger was born, I’d had enough of juggling an often sick child and unrelenting, family-unfriendly jobs.  So I stayed home, with plans to work evenings and weekends when my second got a bit older.  Then, I intended to find suitable schools, return to regular work, and lead a “normal” life.  But life didn’t agree, and for reasons of poor fit and parental fatigue with schools, we came home in the middle of my older son’s second grade year.  My younger son, a challenging three-year-old was in public preschool two mornings a week, which was also a poor fit but allowed me some time alone with my older.

And I didn’t eat my young.  Yes, I told this young mother, I yell sometimes.  Yes, I lose it.  Yes, there are days when the routine of a work day seems far preferable to the relative chaos of homeschooling.  But, no, I’ve never really looked back and wished I’d never begun.

“What if I don’t like it?” she asks. “What if I want them to go back to school?  I don’t want to fail.”

I explained that we reassess the situation each year, with a sincere reminder that school is fine, if that is what a child wants.  I also confessed that I’d threatened a return to school on many occasions, generally saying something like, “If you refuse to learn here, then I am breaking the law having you home, and you’ll have to go to school.”  Tears ensue, first the child’s then, generally in the privacy of my room, mine.  Those moments are far more a statement about my reluctance to shift my plans when those plans aren’t working than they are about my children’s desire to learn.

But return to school isn’t failure.  It’s merely an adjustment in course.  School isn’t bad.  Bad educational fits are bad, and homeschooling can be a bad fit just as school can be.  When I’ve played the return-to-school card at home, it’s almost always out of fear that somehow I am failing — failing them, ruining their future, scarring them for life.  In contrast, when I ask my honest annual “do you want to go to school in the Fall” question, it’s not out of fear at all but out of a desire to respect for their desires for their education.

And what if I should decide, for whatever reason, that I can’t do this anymore?  Then they’d go back.  It has to work for both sides.  It’s a line I often give as a La Leche League leader when talking to an unhappy (usually sleep-deprived) new mom:  if it’s not working for both of you, something probably needs to change. For some families, return to school come junior high or high school is the desired result.  Entry to school is far from homeschool failure.  Being miserable while homeschooling indicates a need for change.

“But will I lose myself if I homeschool them?” this young mother asks.

“That’s up to you,” I reply.  I certainly know moms who lose themselves.  They struggle to find who they are as small, needy people grow in independence and reach out further into the world.  But I’ve seen the same for at-home moms who don’t homeschool, women who struggle for their identity once the youngest is in school all day, or perhaps once that youngest reaches middle school, where parental assistance at school is less welcome.  In other words, it’s not a uniquely homeschooling issue

I told her how I kept my identity (as more than mom) in plain view: I volunteer via La Leche League, I work (very) part-time (making return to work later far easier), I write, I knit, I make time and space to be without my lovely children.  I take time alone, and I make sure I’m still comfortable with the person I find during that time.  Yes, being a homeschooling parent is part of my identity, but it’s not the whole shebang.

This young mother asked other questions about finding similarly minded community, managing financially, and losing one’s career, which are also important issues to families considering the homeschooling lifestyle, although their answers are much more specific to the individual.   All of her questions are far more important before setting out on a homeschooling odyssey than questions about curriculum, record-keeping, and pedagogy.  Those latter concerns have their place, and they are likely ninety percent of what more homeschooling books, blogs, and article are about.  This young mother’s questions, instead, were the ones of the heart, the ones that can keep us up at night and fill us with worry and doubt before we even begin.  They are the important questions for all of us, wherever we are along our homeschooling path.

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7 thoughts on “Homeschooling: The Important Questions

  1. ” Bad educational fits are bad, and homeschooling can be a bad fit just as school can be. ”

    I love that you say this. As a homeschooler, I try to remain open to the fact that homeschooling is not THE WAY to educate children. For us, it is the way, at least right now, but I try to remind myself that things can change quickly. One day I may wake up and find that my happy little homeschoolers want to stretch their wings and try something else.

    • Thanks, Annie and Michelle. Homeschooling is certainly a way to an education, one I’m grateful to have the freedom to utilize. It’s not for every parent, child, or family. For now, for us, it works. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

      Sarah

  2. I love this post!! Heck, I could have written it. So nice to know others experience what I do. I had a day last week where I was in tears, feeling like a failure. Thankfully this week was much better, but good to know I have some kindred spirits in this journey :-).

  3. LOVED reading this! We have been homeschooling since 2005 and we still take it year by year. We don’t automatically assume that our next school year will be at home, but we don’t have plans for public school re-entry either. We just…let it happen. Right now, my boys (ages 7 and 12) can’t imagine leaving the house for school. We certainly have had our moments where they are mad, and I’m crying in my closet, wishing for a fish bowl sized margarita, lol. That’s just the way it is. If it went *too* perfectly, I’d be worried we were all robots or something. ;)

    Not only do I make time for myself, so does the hubs and both of the boys. I like to read, and to scrapbook. A friend and I (she’s a homeschooler as well) have been known to drive an hour to a local Archivers, and spend no less than 10 hours there, unwinding and just being ourselves. When I do this the boys have movie marathons at home, or they are allowed a rare opportunity to sit in from of their video games for however long they want (usually the hubs enjoys this, and plays with them!).

    Again, loved reading this. Thanks for sharing! :)

    Katie
    An accidental homeschooler who eventually realized it was the best “accident” of her life!

  4. These are the questions I *still* have, even after 7 years of “homeschooling” my 7-y/o aspie and his 4-y/o brother. The littler is in preschool because it seemed like he needed more play and attention and he got bored while I tried to learn with my elder son. I find so many days I am worn out and EXHAUSTED from coping with my elder son’s high needs, and nevermind education. I have curricula here, curricula there, but a schedule, HA, and so much gets tossed to the wayside in the midst of just surviving. And when we think about public school, we realize it ISN’T an option, because the idea of putting my son in such a restrictive, repetitive, cookie-cutter environment where bullies abound and I’d spend as much time fighting with the administration as I do with him now… No, it’s not a choice. Homeschooling IS our only option, but I so often feel I’m failing him in his education, in raising him (them, really) in general… This is how I stumbled on your blog today, searching for ideas on how to cope with this life that we’ve been handed, how to homeschool my twice-exceptional boy and also meet his little brother’s needs (he is quite smart himself), how not to go crazy. The very idea of finding regular time to myself is kind of laughable. I don’t even know where or how to begin. Maybe it’s easier when they’re older? I keep hoping that everything will be.

    • Exhausted is the word. I’m quite familiar with the feeling of failing. I believe I had it myself about two hours ago, when my older son was struggling through an assignment. In many ways, it’s gotten much easier as they’ve gotten older. The days are no shorter, but they are (generally) smoother. The more often I remember that inconsistency is the hallmark of learning disabilities, the better I do. If I tattooed that to the boys’ foreheads, I might remember that maxim more often. The phrase consistently inconsistent comes to mind.

      I’m glad you found your way here. I’m looking forward to exploring your blog. It seems we’ve share some of the same path.

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