Last year, three of my five children went to public school for the first time. One was a freshman in high school and two were in elementary school. When people would ask why, I would honestly respond, “I need a break.” And honestly there was a lot of truth to that statement. When we started homeschooling, I had 3 children in 3 years. Our family had moved 4 times in 5 years. I had helped to start a university model homeschool academy. So yes, a “break” certainly seemed reasonable. But there was a lot more to it that.
I was completely burnt out and was suffering health consequences. I was crushed by fear that I wasn’t giving my kids the best education. I worried about the relationships I was building with my children when I was suffering through my own mental distress. And, if I’m going to be really honest here, I just wanted to be normal. I was tired of moving and feel like the weird family in the neighborhood. I wanted my children to have friends and I wanted to find community for myself. I wanted to regain my sense of self that had somehow become lost in the constant needs and demands of others. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed to get healthy emotionally if I was going to be able to cultivate that in my own children. I knew I couldn’t inspire them to learn and be curious about life when I was just trying to plod through each day. I even signed up for masters level theology classes. While I am not planning on continuing my education further, these classes helped me learned a lot about myself and filled my soul. God used one of these classes to convict me that I was to return to homeschooling my children again. That the “break” wasn’t permanent.
At first, I baulked at this idea. I cried out to God that the task of homeschooling was too hard, and I couldn’t do it! I had lost all my passion for it and I didn’t know how to get it back. I called my friends. Some laughed because they knew I had sold EVERYTHING I had related to home education (which was a ton). I had others who simply said, “I knew you would. Homeschooling just fits you.” I’m not sure if my husband initially thought I had lost my mind, but he stayed supportive as we prayed about returning to homeschooling. My family, whom I had once feared thought I was ruining my children by homeschooling them or was just weird (all a story in my head), said really positive things. My oldest went through major struggles in high school and we ended up pulling her out after third quarter. My elementary kids started asking to come home again. I got a teaching position at a local homeschool co-op. I met a group of like-minded mommas who started a Charlotte Mason book club at the same time all these stirrings were happening in my heart. God kept working out the details and showing us the direction to walk in.
So next year, I am returning to being a homeschooling mom. But this time I am determined to homeschool in a sustainable, gentle way. I have changed and I know our homeschooling needed to change as well. I’m going to be sharing more about these changes in the coming weeks, so stay tuned if that is something that interests you.
So what did I learn through this experience:
1. It is ok to ask for help
I’ve always been a self-sustained person. I like being seen as independent and strong. I rarely asked for help. It wasn’t until I was at a very low point, that I realized I needed help. I put off going to see a counselor for many years. Money was the biggest factor. It seemed like quite a large sum when the kids needed new shoes and music lessons. I realized by putting myself last, I wasn’t giving my kids the mom they needed. They deserve a mom who is emotionally healthy. I wanted to model health for them in this way – to show them that it is ok to admit when we are weak, to seek help, and to do the hard work needed to change for the better. I want my kids to see a mom who takes the time to recharge, who knows when she is at her emotional limits, and who is her own confident adult with her own interests, passions, and opinions. I’m still working on all of this, but I think being vulnerable enough to admit I wasn’t ok was the first BIG (and slightly terrifying) step.
2. Public schools aren’t a good fit for my family.
My elementary students had AMAZING teachers. We were very blessed by their love for the students and their dedication to their job. As a former public school elementary teacher, I know how hard the position is. Even so, my daughters struggled in this environment and I was soon reminded of the reason I chose home-education in the first place. Being a teacher, I always struggled with the education philosophy of our modern education system. I wanted to offer my students a feast of great ideas and inspire them to learn. As William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Unfortunately, many schools have been forced to become purely results based. The bucket is filled and then poured out by repeated testing. My second grader was failing these tests. She deemed herself “stupid” and was having stomach pains from anxiety about going to school. My many attempts to get her help were dismissed, with the comment that she just need to get used to the system. One of the teachers involved in an intervention meeting was homeschooled as a child herself. I will NEVER forget what she said when I asked about accommodations for my daughter. She said, “Well, you know homeschooling is the ultimate accommodation. You can give individualized instruction and work at the child’s pace.” That was a lightbulb moment for me. I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t I provide that for my child?” My other daughter struggled as well. When I asked about retention, I was told that parent requests were never granted. My education philosophy just doesn’t match with our current public school structure. It was a good lesson for me to see this first hand.
In addition, I was shocked my the way my oldest was treated by boys in high school! I may write more about this in the future, but for now I will say it wasn’t the environment we wanted our daughter in.
3. Homeschooling doesn’t have to confine you to a box.
This was a revolutionary idea for me. When I first started homeschooling, I read ALL philosophy books: For the Children’s Sake, The Well-Trained Mind, The Lost Tools of Learning, Educating the Whole-Hearted Child, and books by John Taylor Gatto. Unit studies, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Traditional. I felt like I needed to choose an ideological camp and set up my tent. As a former teacher, I ended up decided to create school at home, which seemed the most natural for me. We had workbooks or notebooks for every subject. I went all out at IKEA – desks, student chairs, lots and lots of bookshelves. I bought a laminator and went to town. We were organized to a tee. This system seemed to work in terms of producing educated students. But honestly, in my heart of hearts, I knew our family was missing out on connection and enthusiasm for learning. I have always loved Charlotte Mason’s teachings and have studied them in depth this Spring. But even then there are many folks in that camp who want to put people into a “Charlotte Mason would only do it this way and so must you” box. I realized that though I think her philosophy and her writings are beyond brilliant, I am not a formula follower. I want to take what I have learned and approach my family and home differently, but I have no desire to be put in a “you must do things this way” box. I am confident enough to say I know my kids and I know what they need, and that is a huge deal for me! I think the box made me feel safe and justified in the eyes of others. Breaking free is liberating.
4. I actually missed homeschooling.
I missed my kids. I missed the interaction my kids had with each other. Their sibling relationships were noticeably different after being separated all day. I missed taking field trips and spontaneous picnics and all crowding around the fire on a snowing day to read book after book. I missed knowing what they were learning and having conversations around ALL their questions. I forgot to notice the good things in the midst of the stressful. I had become more focused on checking boxes than loving well. My experiences have opened my eyes to appreciate the things I took for granted.
5. It’s never going to look perfect
All educational choices have their positives and negatives. When my kids were in school, I missed out on a lot. But of course, there were some benefits as well. Homeschooling is certainly not without it challenges. In fact, it is filled with many! I used to think the challenges meant I was failing, and now I see that they are what they are. I need to honestly acknowledge them, surround myself with supportive people, and learn to take time for self-care. I want to go into this year with realistic expectations. My home will probably never look like a chapter from Little House on the Prairie or Little Women. There will be messes, tears, apologies and regrets. But there will also be Starbucks dates, muddy feet, “light-bulb” moments, and of course…books, beauty, and Biblical truth. It is my intention to be thankful for both. Because truly, that is what makes a family, a home, and an education.
If you struggle with maintaining your self in the midst of mothering and homeschooling, I HIGHLY recommend these videos from Julie Bogart from Bravewriter: Awesome Adulting Part I, Awesome Adulting Part II
I also recommend this post on my friend’s experience of having her kids go to school for a year: