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!