A Letter to my Older Son: Homeschooling a High Schooler and Just Being Mom

To my older son, who’s mom who feels a bit out of sorts while wondering best be Mom while homeschooling to her teenager

When you were young, when we started homeschooling, educating you seemed a natural extension of parenting you. After all, it’s at home that you learned to walk, talk, and run. It’s at home that you learned to add, subtract, read, write, and ride a bike. Homeschooling you, a choice made when traditional school failing you, seemed easy in comparison to sending you to school only to know it exhausted you. It seemed simple next to watching your face at the end of each long school day. It seemed tranquil compared to meeting with teachers and school staff at meetings that never got anywhere.

Of course it wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes. But overall, it was fairly easy and almost always fun. We learned together about history, a subject that had never interested me. We read together and watched documentaries together and even managed some science experiments when your younger brother was otherwise occupied. We both relaxed, and you finally seemed happy again. Perhaps most significantly, most of the time I was being Mom the way I’d always been Mom — showing you the world and talking to you about it, playing with you and watching you play, and giving plenty of hugs and snuggles along the way.

Time passed, and life became more complicated. Homeschooling two seemed more than twice the work of homeschooling one, and by the time your brother was working on a task list of his own each day, I was emotionally stressed by problems beyond which math curriculum to choose.  I’ll never be able to take that time back, those years where my worries about my marriage to your dad didn’t take my head and heart away from the two of you. I can’t remove the yelling you heard and the times you saw me cry. There are parts of when you were ten turning to eleven that I can’t even remember. I don’t know what we studied. I don’t know how you felt about it. I can’t recall anything but hurt, anger, fear, and sadness. Knowing you and your brother needed me to be strong kept me going, and I hope you knew I loved you more than ever during those years. I’m sorry, though, for that rift in our lives.

But time went on, and we gradually healed and saw ourselves as a family. Homeschooling continued, and high school loomed. Homeschooling became more daunting but no less wanted or needed. You did better at home than at school academically and emotionally, and I appreciated that. What’s more, I enjoyed having you in my presence each day. I marveled at your growing skills at math, piano, and science. Your kindness and compassion touched me, and watching you play with your brother each day brought me warmth and assurance that growing up deeply within family had value.

But high school scared me. It counts in high school. College comes after high school, and then comes Life. Or graduate school, if you’re looking for a way to delay Life. High school mattered. Before it formally began, parents of your peers talked transcripts and tests. And I grew scared. What I’ve wanted for you and your brother has always been modest — I’d like to see you reasonably happy with your jobs and personal lives, giving more than you take and being people others actually enjoy. I don’t care if you end up rich or famous or accomplished. I do want you to have choices and know how to meet challenge. Did I mention I want you to be happy?

It’s easy to lose the happiness, what with the worry about what colleges and the world will think of you. Or, more precisely, what they’ll think of your transcript from me (the one with no grades) and the ones from your dual enrollment college courses (the ones with grades). What they’ll think of the tests required to prove that we weren’t studying our navels all these years. What they’ll think about the on-paper you that you’ll present them in just under two years.

Sometimes, in all that worrying, I forget about the not-on-paper you. The young man who is always eager to help at home and outside of home. The one who charms me with his banter when I’m edgy and fighting the charming. The one who is both man and child at the same time and sometimes a distant teen. The one who is sensitive to the world and the people in it, caring deeply and, possibly at times, overwhelmed by all of it. The one who doesn’t want to offend or bother anyone, even when it is in his best interest to do both. Sometimes, I forget that one.

And that’s the heart of this apology. Out of fear about events years away, I worry. In that worry, I forget to attend to my boy, my baby. (Yes, I can see you cringe, but you will always be my baby.) I fail to remove my hat of teacher and school counselor and just be Mom. It’s hard for me to do that, since teacher and counselor are only two of my hats, and it seems like the Mom one is buried under those and a dozen more. In the days when I tucked you into bed, reading to you then snuggling in for a chat, the Mom hat was firmly in place and rarely hidden under other. When life took less organizing and arranging and more sitting and playing, I found myself wearing only that hat for much more of my day.

But now, when your bedtime is after mine, and you are the one who peeks in on me to say goodnight, I’m not as sure always what being Mom means. It doesn’t mean snuggles and stories anymore, nor does it mean kissing hurt knees and applying band-aids. Some of it still means reminding and correcting, but I don’t really like those parts, necessary as they are. (moms whine, too.) I know it means listening openly and working to know who you are becoming. I know it means letting you fall…a bit…so you can learn to catch yourself or at least how to avoid the more dangerous edges of life. I know it means that well-timed hugs and back rubs will likely still be accepted…and needed. I know it means that bringing you a sandwich or snack is a reminder that I love you, more potent than the words we share each night. I wish I knew more.

You are a remarkable young man — kind, compassionate, sensitive, smart, capable, funny, creative, and more. I’m a fallible, well-intentioned mom working continually to remember my real-life son requires more of me than the on-paper son for whom I want to have so many choices. It’s not easy, parenting a child who is in this stage of life, and I’m certainly not doing it perfectly. But I love you, with every breath and every fiber of my being. And that’s forever.



One thought on “A Letter to my Older Son: Homeschooling a High Schooler and Just Being Mom

  1. What a beautiful gift this letter is to your son! Reading it brought tears to my eyes, because I struggle with many of the same internal conflicts while homeschooling my youngest son. As a new homeschooler of a so-called 7th grader, I’m already worrying about how to prepare him for the high school stage! I dislike having to worry about the “on-paper son”, while those things that I appreciate most about him won’t count for squat with the educational decision-makers. However, I continue to prod and push because it’s important that doors will be open to both my boys (one hs-ed, one in public h.s.), so they have opportunities to create the lives they want.

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