homeschooling and commitment

During my eighth grade year, I asked my teacher mom and minister father if I could be tutored at home. I knew we couldn't afford it, but I had to ask. Eighth grade was the pinnacle of suffering for me as a public schooler. Years before that, I had realized I could basically teach myself (this I gathered while home sick, reading through my English and math textbooks). I loved learning. School stifled my socialization process, caging me with random others who were all my age-ish and for the most part wanted to cut classes and be cool.

Coolness and I had/have never fit. After marrying a man at least as nerdy as I, I could imagine my kids might inherit this lack of coolness factor.

When Victoria turned five, our adventure began. I taught my two kids the way I write essays -- by feel. My instincts were my guide. I read books, observed other homeschool parents, and gleaned. I became increasingly grateful for the diversity of families in my extended neighborhood. In many ways this was fun and fulfilling.

At the same time, I anxietized regularly. Often I was overwhelmed. I felt isolated, the only mom on the block staying home, tending a menagerie of critters and my children.

On the other hand, I marveled that I could be allowed to dwell here, staying home tending critters and our kids. (Only rarely did I consider my husband part of the menagerie.) Though I could see that homeschooling was far from perfect for any of us, I counted it as a great gift, and I still do.

Life's twists and storms unveil surprising facets, and in homeschooling it's no exception. I wouldn't have guessed Victoria mentally pictured numbers quite differently from the way I did, or that she would actually want to do crafts (art class was one bane of my education). After she left home, Victoria unveiled her amazing desire to become an Orthodox Christian. Her journey eventually affected me in ways that make for another story, one I keep working to express. It sure seemed to come, at first, from way out of left field.

Nor was I expecting James to educate himself so extensively regarding things going on around our planet. (I knew he liked geology, but then he delved deeply into the strata of human activities...) My son's conclusions during his teenage years kept him outside "the system" in many respects. Through battles of will with James I learned much. As parents do, I began to appreciate things my own parents went through with me. I also gained exceeding gratitude for what James is all about, in his desire to give to society.

Reflecting on life with both my kids, I recognized their choices and actions were coming from their unique, individual abilities to make reasonable decisions. I had to admit, even when they chose differently from what I would have chosen, they were doing exactly what I had hoped they would learn to do.

Over the years I gained a lot from observing and interacting with other homeschool parents. Some of their ideas nearly swayed me onto certain paths. Some decided, for instance, that we Christian parents were obligated to populate America with our evangelically-trained progeny, and so they became committed to birthing lots of children.

I spent many late nights discussing this issue with Tim. I guess those were our Let's Have More Babies talks. To my dear man's credit, he listened attentively, respectful of my concerns after I had read a book by Mary Pride. Then he suggested we talk to people, our pastor and others we respected, about the issue. We ended up leaving room for the possibility of Baby #3, but we chose not to be committed to producing a large family. We therefore didn't feel like failures when no third child came along.

Once a mother of five said to me, while we stood in her hallway outside the utility room piled with clothes, "I've done a terrible job homeschooling." Her children all seemed great to me, and they have grown up to be productive, loving adults. She wasn't making an excuse that day or wallowing in shame; she was stating the facts as she saw them. Her words stayed with me.

Regarding mothering, regarding homeschooling, I can also say I've done a terrible job. Every day I got distracted; all my shining goals turned rather dull. But today I can tell you why I taught my children at home. It's the same reason I would have sent them to public school if that had seemed best for them. My commitment was not to schooling after a certain fashion or making a social or religious statement; my commitment was my children. I deeply regret my failures regarding that commitment to them. I continually returned -- hopefully doing better sometimes -- to my commitment.

From what my kids now tell me, this commitment came across and they were grateful. Victoria recently mentioned her point of view on her blog. She says, "I’ve always planned on homeschooling my kid(s) unless they want to do otherwise." Sounds good to me.

Lately I read the stories of young adults for whom homeschooling was a bad scene. I ache for them and for their parents. I appreciate groups such as Homeschoolers Anonymous, seeking to show both sides of homeschooling. This ought to happen for any form of education, because there will always be a down side, a dark aspect, to consider.

Just today I read a debate between a blogger whose homeschooling experience was negative and Mary Pride's daughter. A friendly debate, I might add. This encouraged me. I'd like to encourage all dear people, parents and children, to discuss, consider, and recommit. Always. That's the best advice I know.


Thank you for this post. I will be eternally grateful that we answered God's call to homeschool. I love the relationship I have with my children and I love the unique people they are and are becoming.

I just graduated child #3 and have only one more year with my last! Like you it was more about the commitment to finish and keep trying than the ability to do it all perfectly.

Like you I sometimes struggled to discern God's voice in the voices around me in the homeschool culture, and my husband was wise in helping me not get caught up in some things that looking back now don't even make sense to me.

I ache for those who have been deeply hurt by the extreme culture that became so prevalent in the homeschool movement. I know some kids personally, see some of their painful stories. And grieve when I read the stories of those I don't know. I pray for healing for all.
deanna said…
Paula, thanks for commenting. I like what you said about "some things that looking back now don't even make sense to me". Isn't it something the way culture (homeschooling or another) influences us? Especially when we're seeking to do something fairly untried.

Congratulations on being nearly done. I now have an empty nest (generally) and a full yard, as our son practices permaculture (suburban farming) all around us.

I share your commitment to prayer for healing for the families in pain. Take care.
Dee said…
Dear Deanna, having never had children or raised any children, I've not had to grapple with the idea of how they will be schooled. My school days at St. Mary's Grade and High School in Independence, Missouri, were, in general, happy ones.

But I do have a younger friend who has two boys and she began home schooling them five years ago because the younger of the two hadn't learned how to concentrate and so things were being difficult in a classroom where the teacher expected more of him.

He truly profited from homeschooling because his mother so understood his creative side and his need to ponder and muse.

When they moved to Texas this past fall, both boys wanted to go to public school so that they could make friends in a new place. Their mother hasn't said and I haven't asked her whether things are going well for the boys in school. That's going to be I think a summer discussion!

I'm happy for you that you were and are committed to treasuring and honoring the essence of your children. What makes them who they are. Peace.
deanna said…
Hi, Dee. It was an interesting journey to be a parent at all, for me. I did appreciate being able to understand my kids' creative sides, like your friend. I've guessed my son might have been put on ritalin or something if in public school, though I can't know that for sure, of course.

My daughter became curious about public school around her middle school years. That was when I needed to let go and let her decide. I was fearful, after school shootings and so on, to let her try it, but it was important to give her freedom and not let my fears rule. She ended up taking a British lit class at the nearby high school. She enjoyed it and went to the prom, as well. But there were enough things going on in our homeschool groups that the one class satisfied her curiosity.