Will I Eat My Young? (Homeschooling for Beginners)

Thanks M.M., a new homeschooling mom who asked the big questions all new homeschoolers asked. Here’s a longer answer to one of her questions. Click on the blue links if you want to read more I’ve written on a particular subject. 

Welcome to homeschooling.

Perhaps you’re bringing your 5th grader home from school because she was miserably bored in 4th grade. Perhaps you’re skipping kindergarten round-up, suspecting kindergarten won’t be a good fit for you or your child. Or perhaps your son is in the middle of second grade, in the second school of his elementary career, and is miserable, and with his mix of exceptional giftedness and learning disabilities, you know home would be a better environment for him to grow. Wait. That last one is our story.

Whatever the reason you’re coming home or staying home, you likely have concerns about curriculum, co-ops, dual enrollment, online classes, transcript writing, and the laws in your state about homeschooler. I’ll be addressing none of those today. Curriculum is a matter of opinion. Procedures and laws vary from state to state. Transcripts give me headaches. Those are all important issues that have been written about here and elsewhere, but they aren’t the crux of what a new homeschooling parent should be pondering but either don’t speak aloud or simply don’t consider.

You won’t eat your young. Fear of conflict ranks high on the list of concerns of homeschoolers-to-be. I’ve known many a frustrated homeschooling parent who often wondered if consuming a child would take care of uncomfortable and perhaps toxic conflict while also solving the perennial question of what to have for dinner, but from my last count, all their children are still present and accounted for. Mine are still here, ages 12 and 16, and I’m not so long in the patience department, so I’m sure yours will survive, too.

But there will be conflict. There was before you homeschooled, right? Kids and parents don’t always agree. Kids don’t always listen to their parents, and parents don’t always listen to their kids. And while as parents, we usually speak (or sometimes yell) our concerns and requests, kids often act them out instead. That stalling on the math assignment? That may be a way to communicate boredom with thirty more problems so much like yesterdays that they hardly seem worth doing. The refusal to sit down at the piano bench for just twenty minutes? That may be a message from the perfectionist child who fears starting what might not go perfectly.

And, yes, your kids will avoid assignments that are Goldilocks just right. Minecraft calls. Books you didn’t assign beckon. The cat desperately needs to play. Even chores seem more interesting than the volume of cones and cylinders or the lab report on kinetic energy. The result? Conflict. You may yell. You may patiently redirect. If you are more relaxed than I often am, you may dump a subject for a day or week or month or even year, finding a way to make your child’s passion the lesson instead. (Warning. This works for some kids, like my younger son. My older then just switches passions. Know when to keep your hands off.)

You will sometimes be afraid. That inability to learn multiplication tables before starting algebra won’t make and engineering career impossible. The writing disability or even just unwillingness won’t eliminate all careers except the skilled trades (although a plumber or electrician in the family would be a serious boon). And that playdate that ended badly? Your child will likely go on to have friends and even a partner someday. Okay, I’m short on data here, but my fears for my children have yet to be realized. Somehow, they keep growing and learning and having other people enjoy their presence. And that’s what we’re after, right? Watch your fear, however, since for many of us, if the fear is ignored — if we refuse to listen to it and accept it — it morphs into anger. And while you won’t eat your young, anger again and again isn’t so good for anyone.

You’ll have to apologize. Own up to your mistakes, those time when your fear boils over into anger and those times when a lack of sleep three nights running overlaps with the sudden coffee shortage in your pantry. You’ll lose it sometimes. If you’re anything like me, you’ll yell at points and say things you’d love to take back moments after they leave your mouth. But you can’t. So apologize often. And try again next time after some healthy reflection on what went wrong. Conflicts happen. Demonstrate that they can happen in healthy, productive ways, and when you can’t demonstrate that, demonstrate humility and the art of the heart-felt apology.

Protect your relationship with your child. Conflicts can remind us that our priorities are out of whack. Yes, we’re trying to raise kids that can go to college (or high school), perhaps go to graduate school, and hold jobs. It’s easy to see today’s refusal to do math or failure to write a coherent sentence as tomorrow’s disaster. At points, I’ve put my educational worries about my children before my relationship with them, worrying about this skill or that skill while losing sight of the child who needs the skills. It’s never made any of us happier or my children any more successful. Yes, there are nonnegotiables when parenting and when homeschooling. Health and safety matters aren’t debatable, and insisting on these rarely causes friction in our house. Yes, there are skills I see as mandatory for adult life, including some academic competencies as well as planning and organizational skills and knowing how to get up in the morning. But even these skills are best learned on the child’s timetable. (Those that know me in real life, please remind me of this next time I lose it. Thanks.)

Don’t make plans beyond the present year (or month or sometimes day). Homeschool today because that is what works today. It might work next school year, or it might not. You’re sure you’ll homeschool that darling 5 year old forever? Don’t be. Life changes. Kids have wills of their own. Positive you’ll return your miserable middle schooler to high school next fall? Leave it open. Sure, keep your child on track for returning if that’s a possibility, but  don’t marry yourself to a plan for a year not yet upon you. While I worry decades down the road, I’ve always taken the decision to homeschool one year at a time. It’s like trying to buy a swimsuit for your post-pregnant body when you’re one month shy of delivery. The shape of things change more than you’d think. Stay open.

Take care of yourself. Those first few years, its easy to lose yourself into the all-consuming world of homeschooling. With thousands of curricula, hundreds of homeschooling boards, and dozens of methodologies, it’s easy to make a life out of your child’s education. Don’t. Read books that aren’t about education and homeschooling. See friends and talk about things other than your children. Nurture your relationship with your partner, and create time to just be alone.

Develop your own talents and pursue your own interests. Take that class. Start that new business. Maintain your professional credentials (or pursue new ones). In short, have a life that is bigger than homeschooling, a position that is not a tenure track job. Also, it’s good for kids to see parents learning and growing and generally taking care of themselves.

Chances are that you’re not doing it wrong. There are as many ways of homeschooling as their are homeschoolers. It’s easy to read the email lists and forums and assume you are raising knuckle draggers who will never be able to make it in the world, much less move out of your basement or that you are the laziest, meanest homeschooling parent in the world. Walk away from the lists and forums. Look at your kids. Are they learning? Are they relatively happy and developing skills that allow them to give back to the world? Are they nice kids? If yes, you’re likely doing just fine. Continuous improvement is exhausting for all involved, so give it a break.

Breathe. Laugh. Sleep. Sit still when you desperately feel like you shouldn’t or can’t, because that’s likely when you should. Do less than you think you should, because there really are only 24 hours in a day, and some should be spent on contemplating the universe, reading for fun, playing Scrabble, watching BBC dramas, wrestling with your children, playing with kittens, and writing blog posts about homeschooling. You’ll make your own list, of course, but only follow it if you want to. Homeschooling, like most worthwhile endeavors, is hard work requiring long days and sometimes sleepless nights. So take nap. Take a walk. Take time to recharge. And have fun.




6 thoughts on “Will I Eat My Young? (Homeschooling for Beginners)

  1. Thank you, THANK YOU for this excellent piece – the first thing I read after getting up at 3am, unable to sleep with thoughts, plans, and yes, fears of first-time homeschooling running through my head. I have a feeling I will return to your words of wisdom many times again as I embark on this adventure with my child. So grateful to you, M.M.

  2. I forwarded this story to a friend and thought I’d share the reply: Thanks for the forwarded story. Ifeel like this person wrote it for me :) I guess many homeschool parents feel the same.


  3. On bad days I always tell myself, the whole world is filled with school-going people, and the world is not a better place in spite of that. In fact, we are in a downward hill into utter depravity. How in the world, then, would my Christian homeschooled children can make it any worse than it is already? Perhaps homeschooling may even act as preservative to our decaying society, that thought alone can keep me going for another day.

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