In January, Paul and I were working under the assumption that our family would be making a short-term relocation to Montgomery, Alabama so that Paul could attend a six week military training course. Given the information that we had, we made the decision to take Jack and Brenn out of school a few weeks before leaving so that I could get used to homeschooling them. (We’ve since learned that under no circumstances should you do anything drastic when all you have is an assumption based on information from the military : )
By the time we realized that Paul’s training had been cancelled, the boys were so enthusiastic about this new and exciting scholastic adventure that I just decided to finish out the semester at home. How hard could it be, really?
I was homeschooled from fourth grade on because by third grade I was failing in school and emotionally strung out from the social pressures I faced there. My mother was one of the brave parents to start homeschooling when it was still relatively unheard of. I’ll brag on her because, in all honesty, she was an amazing teacher. Given what I know now, I’m once again deeply impressed by her dedication and personal sacrifice. The woman LOVED to teach and she did this with great attention to quality and detail.
Given my history, you’d think that I’d have an easy time jumping into the homeschooling world. Not to add, I have three sister-in-laws that homeschool, I have two good friends that homeschool, and not a few Facebook acquaintances that I could call upon if I found myself in need of wisdom.
So armed with good advice, a wealth of organizational strategies, and curriculum provided by Jack’s school plus a few workbooks I found on amazon, we began.
After about a month, people began to ask, “So, how do you like homeschooling?” I’d say something like, “Well, it’s a challenge, but I think we’re doing ok!” or “Really good! Jack LOVES it!” or “It’s taking some adjustment but so far so good!”
But what I REALLY wanted to say was, “Much to my dismay, I don’t like it at all. It’s not so much hard as it is endlessly frustrating. According to theory, teaching my own children was supposed to provide grand avenues for expressing my overwhelming love for them (which I do have, really). Instead, I find these grand avenues are all thwarted by the daily tasks of getting school done while taking care of Meg, while maintaining my house, while holding down a part-time job and while helping at church. All of this has led to an increased amount of irritation and impatience with my children. I don’t enjoy first grade math or preschool phonics! Crafts and science experiments stress me out! So, if right now you asked me to grade myself on my homeschooling trial-run, I think that I would give myself a big fat F-. Why not just a regular F you ask? Because on top of the other failures, I’ve had to give up my exercise time in the morning in order to get everything done while the boys are asleep that I used to do when they were at school. Thus, homeschooling has made me both fat and frustrated… which equals a big Fat F-.”
And when I paused to take a breath, what would you have replied after all THAT? Hmmmm? : )
The truth is, I know deep down that I am not naturally gifted as an elementary school teacher. I knew this at the end of my freshman year of college when I desperately began searching for a new major after spending my first year taking Elementary Education classes and hating them. What was true then is still true now, I just don’t like to teach little children…apparently, not even my own!
Maybe some of you are a little shocked by this, or maybe you’re tempted to judge me, or maybe you sympathize with me. Whatever you are feeling, I know that childhood education is obviously an emotionally charged subject. But remember that I’m not writing a treatise of the subject or saying what you do is right, wrong, or anything else, I’m just writing an account of my own experience, observations and thoughts.
Most notably, I caught myself evaluating the parenting hype which asserts that, somehow, the fact that Jack, Brenn and Meg are my children means that I am automatically coded with the intellectual (if not physical) ability to understand and meet their needs better than anyone else. I struggled with this. My pride wanted to believe it in the form of “I am the best teacher for my child by virtue of being their mom,” but my experience unsurprisingly brought reality crashing home. I might not be the their best teacher! What a strange parenting trend, where we become willing to discount the knowledge and experience of almost any profession when it comes to our kids. We know (despite having much less training and much less familiarity with the issues) what our children need better than any “professional” (perhaps said with a measure of sarcasm or judgment.) Blog posts and articles describe mothers everywhere who seem to be “trusting their instinct” and “following their gut” to the exclusion of many other types of informed decision making processes. Why? Is that what God wants us to do? Follow our guts? If so, who informs my gut? Truly, I’m being serious in my questions here. I know that there are times when I have made a good decision on the fly because it “felt right,” but generally, shouldn’t I see this as God’s providence and his protection rather than some innate and infallible dousing rod which will lead me to my best decision every time. It seems like my intuitions should be the exception rather than the rule—the thing that causes me to reevaluate the evidence if I have time, or trust in the moment that God will help me because I need to make the decision right now. Otherwise intuition becomes me doing what I want just because I want to do it. Maybe out of pride? Maybe out of fear? I’m not sure. But when it comes specifically to schooling, I am afraid that following my gut will lead to a less than stellar educational journey for my children.
And I know I’m painting with a broad brush here (I know that no one always follows their gut and never listens to anyone else), but truthfully, my (short) journey into homeschooling thus far has further convinced me that God did not intend for me to meet all of my child’s emotional, physical or spiritual needs. I fully believe that I am inadequate for the task and must rely on the God-given gifts and talents of other people to help my children grow in skill, wisdom and grace.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure that there is another blog post germinating in my head regarding this topic. I have to do some more research into Luther’s concept of vocational theology, I want to do some digging into what the bible says regarding parental responsibilities and I might try to figure out what “community” looks like to God. I want to do all this because honestly, the past semester has made me pretty desperate to figure out just exactly what God wants from me as a mother. I love my children, so much. I want what is best for them. But sometimes, I don’t know what that looks like. Have you ever been at this point? Maybe it is one that we face over and over as our children grow.
But until I write that next post, I’ll leave you with some promises.
First, to homeschooling readers: Don’t worry, even though I’m not great at it and even though it’s not my favorite thing, I’ll homeschool my kids if there isn’t a good alternative. I will see this as my loving service to my children which, though uncomfortable, is part of my calling both as a mother and as a follower of Jesus—who did the most uncomfortable thing of all for the people that he loved.
Second, to public and private school readers: like you, I will trust in God’s gracious gifting to the many teachers that will influence my children’s lives. I will also trust that God will give me insight and wisdom when engaging with those teachers for the good of my kids.
Third, to my dear husband who wants the best for both his wife and his three children: I promise that I will try not to take on more than I can handle and if I do, I won’t drown my frustrations in coffee or escape my responsibilities by downloading all the free or 2.99 kindle books that I can and squirreling myself away in the bathroom while our children frolic, unsupervised, through our house.
And to myself: Now that school is finished, I will start to exercise again. I will. Really. I promise : )