Musings on Being a (Homeschooling) Mom

Mother’s Day is approaching. So is the end of our homeschooling year. The juxtaposition of the two seems apt. After a long and at times trying school year, I’m ready for a break from formally educating my sons. I’m looking forward to setting that part of being Mom aside for a few months and enjoying the gentler more relaxed side of my mom-nature. Perhaps I just fear that if the school year goes much longer, my boys will forget that their mom has that side.

I’ve often been asked by those not homeschooling if it’s hard to be both mother and teacher to my child.  As a new homeschooler with only one young child to formally educate, I didn’t give the question a thought. After all, at seven, the formal part of our homeschooling day — the portion involving curriculum and a plan — was short.  Two hours a day were plenty for a young child who learned oceans by just being awake. Ironically, I spent hours each weekend planning those few hours of formal education. Oh, I loved the planning. The execution was mostly pleasurable, too. Most of school time was spent together, reading and  discussing science and history, working through math (child thinking and talking, mom taking down answers), and watching fine documentaries.

Sure, there was some coaxing and reminding. Until he was about ten, if I left the room for laundry, a trip to the bathroom, or even a glass of water, he’d wander off immediately. And yes, there was occasional yelling, nagging, and reprimanding. I’m no saint, and neither are my children. But all of that felt no different than the rest of mothering. Reminding a child to finish a handwriting page seemed just like reminding a child to flush then wash.

Thus the assertion made by many homeschooling parents that homeschooling is simply an extension of parenting. And for the most part, it is. We support, guide, and encourage our children as they learn a myriad of tasks. We teach them to latch when nursing in a way that assures milk to them at less pain to Mom. We hold their hands as they take first steps and remind them to slow down a few months later. We encourage and shape their speech, answering their babbles, naming objects, reading them books, and answering their endless question. We muddle through toilet training, often wondering if the whole process would have been better left until later yet certain that the cost of a box of size five diapers must rival a semester of instate college tuition.

As they approach traditional school age, we’re already explaining the world and listening to them explain it to us. We guide them as they start to read and model how to write. We inform them on social norms and quietly decide which ones we can disregard. We troubleshoot their relationships, from the argument about whose turn is next on the swings to the loneliness of the first grader on the playground. We teach table manners, nose blowing, bike riding, and shoe tying. Or at least we try. One cannot learn what one is not ready to learn, after all.

At some point, the wheel turns. It’s gradual and somewhat insidious, but over the years, the homeschooling portion of the day expands, as it should. (We’re not unschooly. I’d like to think that I want to be that, but I really don’t.) Attention spans lengthen and subject matter becomes more challenging, requiring more than a read-aloud session and short discussion (although these are still valuable). Algebra and geometry take far more time and work than arithmetic, which is appropriate, given the reward of learning these more challenging subjects. The time comes for well-researched answers, thesis statements, and rhetorical finesse, all skills that take hard work, patience, and plenty of time.

The two hour structured homeschooling day is but an idyllic memory. Somewhere in the past two years, our homeschool day went from starting in the morning and ending early to mid-afternoon to starting around the same time but ending somewhere between evening and night. While the boys don’t need me by their side every minute while they work, they still need me. There are still lessons to be taught, problem sets to be checked, and essays to be read. There is still plenty of coaxing, guiding, and supporting. And this is to be expected. Parenting is not a day job, nor does it end at age 14, 18, 21, or, from what I hear, ever.

But as adolescence approaches, parenting does change. I’m not sure either of my children were ever as naive to think I had all the answers and could heal all wounds with a kiss and a song, but perhaps for a while, I bought into the idea that I could. Or at least I hoped I’d always loom a little larger than the imagined monsters and real troubles my boys would face. But I don’t. When I’m going head-to-head with a recalcitrant teen about showing his work or meeting his commitments, I wonder if the biggest monster he faces is the person who should be he sure shelter. I am, all at once, the one who produces the assignments and lists that so vex him while being the one who should be bringing him comfort. It brings about a rather Jekyll and Hyde turn of events, what with the tough love and the soft, squishy love competing for space.

Would it be easier if my kids were in school? Sure, I wouldn’t have to plan lessons, grade work, and write transcripts. I’d still have to coax children through homework, ridiculous busywork and substantive assignments both. Stress about mornings would worsen (I’ve heard high school classes start well before 9 a.m.), and the day would certainly be no shorter.  I’d likely worry just as much about their futures, with just as little fruit from that worry as I have now but with far less ability to adjust their studies and day to their needs. I’m sure I’d be wrangling with counselors, teachers, and principals about accommodations for two 2e (twice exceptional — gifted with learning challenges) kids, a process that stressed and fatigued me beyond measure when only one child with only one known “e” was in school. No, it wouldn’t be easier. Different, but not easier.

Even if they were in school,  they’d still require a mysterious mix of tough love and squishy love. Figuring out when to hug and when to hold accountable would be no more clear. And, by the middle of May, I’d likely be tired of coaxing and reminding about schoolwork. We’d all be tired of it. I’d be ready to remove the hats of homework manager and school liaison, and the boys would be ready to shed school books and classes for more time to just fiddle and lap up the sunshine.

I’m glad we’re home, learning together, stretching the role of parent as teacher that we so willingly accept when our children are small into the years when I suspect they really need us the most. We’re two weeks (to the day!) to the last online class for my younger, two weeks until we settle into summer mode. Mother’s Day is approaching. Here’s to days with more squishy love, a few less reminders, and the warmth that comes from spending our time together.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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10 thoughts on “Musings on Being a (Homeschooling) Mom

  1. Beautifully written. I’m toying with the idea of homeschooling my 2e son this fall and I love hearing your honest personal take on the mother/teacher role.

    • Melissa, at least for us, it’s been a far more manageable path than was school. Persistant and tenacious as I may be, working with the schools for my older left me exhausted and sad. Sometimes I’m still exhausted and sad, but I’m not also fighting uphill for accommodations. This parenting path is far from smooth and easy. Best of luck!

  2. Oh, you so nailed this one! I am at the same point you are. Actually, people ask me if we homeschool year round. My answer is that we never stop learning, but *I* need the boys to see me as other than their teacher, and I need to know they have memories of me when I’m not in that role.

  3. Wow…Ok, let me just say that I had looked at all the reasons to homeschool school all year long, less review to regain summer losses, more flexibility to take breaks when we need them, all of the school reasons. I never really thought about the idea that my daughter, who is a voracious learner, might need to see me as just Mama, and not as Mama/Teacher. For years I have touted the benefits of year round schooling, we use an online curriculum (Time4Learning) that allows for full access with no time limits on when subjects must be completed, and so we don’t configure our school year around traditional school sessions or breaks. You certainly have given me another idea to contemplate, that formal school might need to stop so that I can simply be Mama. Thank you for presenting this notion…I’ll have to think about this. Happy Homeschooling!

    • I know year-round schooling makes sense from a continuity perspective, but I’m pretty sure I’d be at risk of eating my young or losing my mind. I know families who do it and are quite sane, but I would not be. At least for us, down time from formal, directed learning is a must. I’m usually impressed by the cognitive leaps my boys have taken when we restart in the fall. I don’t know if the down time gives their brains time to consolidate the material or if three months of growth just is more obvious to me when I haven’t been seeing their work day to day (kind of like that niece or nephew that seems to grow a foot beween visits). Isn’t it nice to have a choice?

  4. Sarah,
    Just found this blog while searching for reviews of science resources for my homeschooled kids. Wow! Your words resonate with me. I have stayed up way too late reading bits and pieces of your blog. I appreciate your reviews of homeschooling resources and your thoughts on homeschooling, motherhood, feminism, and more. I look forward to dropping by this blog on a regular basis for some food for thought.
    Regarding this post, I have 3 daughters and a son. Telling the girls they can study and choose any path in life sometimes feels hollow to me when I don’t follow it up with real examples of women who have made different choices in life than I have. I’m happy with my own choices and don’t regret stepping away from my profession to be full-time mom. But I so want them to see and know women who made different choices.
    Finally, as someone who would be labeled a “conservative Catholic” living in a small town world with a small conservative Christian homeschooling community in the midst of what often strikes me as an astonishingly worldly and materialistic prevailing culture, I feel like a fish out of water no matter where I go. I never feel quite like I fit with my homeschooling friends. But I don’t seem to fit with others in the community either. Homeschooling can be such a tough row to hoe, and I devote so much of my time and effort to it. It’s almost impossible to explain to my non-homeschooling friends. And yet, my fellow homeschoolers sometimes seem to be approaching homeschooling in a way that is so different from my own that it’s hard to find the common ground. What I’m trying to say is that I think I might “fit” here.
    I look forward to reading more!
    Cheryl

    • I’m so glad you feel comfortable here! Welcome to the conversation. I’ve often if I’d carry additional concerns about my homeschooling choice and the model of womanhood it sets for my children if I had daughters. I imagine I would, given that issue plagues me plenty with my sons. (I don’t know if you ran across this post: Women at Home: What Do We Teach Our Children?) While I’ve found a good community of women in and out of work, homeschooling and not, of similar beliefs to mine and different, in my darker times, I feel very alone. Finding fit is hard, elusive often. I’m glad you found it here. Welcome to the conversation!

      • I read that post and thought about that topic a lot in the past. My husband and I have always thought that once children enter the picture, both parents are obligated to make parenting their primary responsibility. How that manifests in a particular family and on any particular day is up to the spouses to decide. I just try hard to be sure my kids see that the choices my husband and I have made are not the only path they can choose. Yet I also want them to see that choosing to have children means they must be prepared to turn their lives upside down if necessary for the good of the children. It’s a tricky lesson to teach isn’t it?

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