Aaaahhh, summer “vacation” is here. It is 10:28 in the morning, and I am not forcing bits of unwanted academic information down the throats of my free-spirited offspring. I can take a deep breath and look forward to a summer free of constant structure and rushing to cram in so many things everyone wants out of typical day. I can clean out the clutter and disorder that happens during the busy school year and get things back in order for the next year. We can go to the pool or take a walk through the woods to find wild berries or drive over to help my grandparents without feeling like I have to push a mountain sized list of commitments out of the way to do it.
A reoccurring thought I’ve had from time to time pops into my mind which causes me to reevaluate the fundamentals of a major life decision I made even before I ever really considered having children. My brain says, and I quote, “Why the heck do I put myself through the emotional and psychological rollercoaster that is homeschooling my children when I don’t have to?” Good question. Good question.
Is it that I think homeschooling children is what makes a life meaningful or is part of what makes a good parent? No. I honestly don’t. My parents were amazing, and they sent me and my brother to public schools for most of our childhood. In fact, I make a habit of evaluating parenthood under my own, self-constructed, “Third-World-Parent” paradigm. In a situation where a parent has nothing to offer a child but love, as much protection as they have the power to provide, and as many basic necessities as they have access to, where all extracurricular activities, academic choice, travel, fashion, luxuries and entertainment are unknown and impossible, can they still be a good parent? Well, of course. Of course. If something in our first-world parenting habits can be stripped from it, and you can still picture an amazing parent out there somewhere without the ability to provide those things, then they are not a fundamental part of good parenting. They are luxuries, extras, things we should feel grateful for and not entitled to.
So, then is it something I do for my own ego and self-image? Is it something I do to prove something to myself about my own worthiness as a woman or as a parent? Is it something I do to look amazing or super godly to the world around me? Am I doing this to project an image of myself to others or maintain an image I want of myself? Well, if I’m not careful, then honestly, yes. Sometimes I fall into that miserable and insatiable trap, but is that why I keep doing this homeschool thing? Goodness gracious, no. Certainly not, because even when I’m reasonably certain I couldn’t feel any more insecure than I do about the success of my children academically, socially, spiritually and all the other “ly’s” that I could add to this list, I push passed my damaged ego and press on. Even when I’m lost in a sea of homeschool critics at a neighborhood pool party who find my choice very uncool and disturbing, I don’t waver. Neither self-image nor public-image could not possibly be the foundation of my choice to wake up 180 mornings a year and drag my precious, but typically short-sighted children to the school table while they take every opportunity to make it clear they would rather do anything else, (except get up before the sun and ride a bus to a full day of school and still have to come home to do more schoolwork. That they know full well from their friends.) If self-image and public-image were my priority, there are far more self-glorifying choices I could make with my life.
Is it because I am a religious, control freak who fears the influences that come with sending my children to private or public school? This is something I have turned over and over in my mind to make sure I am being very honest with myself about, and here’s why. I am a person who never, ever wants to make decisions based on fear. I am rebellious against fear, and I seek the Lord for complete faith that He can work and move in amazing ways in the midst of any situation that comes our way. Fear is never a good foundation for any decision. Fear lies. It controls. It steals life. In fact, if I am truly afraid of something, I do my best to face it every time and strengthen those muscles that make me cowardly. Do I believe there are influences in an institutionalized school system that I do not want engrained in my children’s hearts and minds? Yes, and I will get into this aspect of my decision later, but do I believe it is fear of those influences that drives my decisions? No. It is not fear.
Is it because I can’t afford private school? It’s not that either. I could go back to real estate and work hard to make the money I would need to send my children to private school. I could scale back my life now and afford to send my children to private school if that was something we decided to do. Homeschooling my children is not something I do because private school is not an option.
Is it that I don’t want to get a job where I am held accountable for my time? In reality, I have a husband that values my flexibility to be available to skirt off with him to this country or that state whenever the opportunity arises. He values my attention to our family and to his career. He enjoys having someone at home he can call on to take care of things he can’t while he’s on the road. He values my ability to volunteer for a good cause whenever there is a need without having to work around a demanding career. Even when the children are grown and gone, I think he would still rather I choose a lifestyle that allows for those flexibilities, so it’s not like he’s itching for me to get a job and start accumulating wealth. I could, if I wanted, send my children to public school and spend my days sipping coffee, shopping, sun tanning, and traveling on a whim with a very basic “to do” list to occupy my time.
“So what the heck? I mean, really?” I ask myself. “What the HECK?!” My kids can still grow up and do drugs and/or get knocked up just like other kids. My kids could grow up to be lazy quitters with loads of issues they blame on me and my flawed parenting. They can and will question all of my parenting decisions, and I will stand accountable to them on some levels for the choices I made with their lives. Gosh, I love my parents and I think they did the best job possible, but I still went through a very critical period where I blamed them for my problems and very judgmentally went about structuring any of those issues out of my own parenting style with reckless abandon. But while I was occupied with structuring out one problem, another one was created behind my back. The attempt to make life perfect is an exercise in futility that could drive a person insane.
The honest reality of why I homeschool when I don’t really have to comes down to one simple truth. I can, so I do. I don’t have to work to earn money. I have the resources to pull it off. I have the intelligence, health, energy and desire to be with my children as much I can for this ridiculously brief period of time called childhood. I have the support of my husband, family, and friends. I do believe there are many benefits to homeschooling my children or I wouldn’t do it. However, the number one reason is simply that I can, so I do. And considering I think there are amazing parents who can’t, so they don’t, there is no reason to make it more altruistic that.
Now, here are the reasons I feel crazy blessed that I can homeschool. There is this issue of influences I mentioned above. Every parent who cares at all, considers the influences in their children’s lives and tries to mitigate the ones they view as bad. Now, what those bad influences are considered to be is going to vary greatly from parent to parent, but I think we can all agree that parenthood for the not chronically aloof involves one quest after the next to seek “good” influences for our impressionable children over “bad” ones.
Here’s something I love. My children’s self-image does not come from, nor is it influenced by the actions or opinions of other immature, insecure children. They will never be the “nerd” in their class or, even more damaging in my opinion, experience harassing the socially ostracized without my immediate attention to teach them a lesson in love and compassion. They do not have to deal with peer pressure to make themselves worthy of love and attention by wearing the right name brands or having the latest fashions and trends. I don’t have to answer questions about elementary friends who one second say they want to be batman when they grow up and in the next statement claim to be gay before any child is even ready to navigate the muddied waters of sexuality. Actually, who is ever ready to navigate that? I am just grateful I get to put that off until I can’t dodge around it anymore. I could go on and on, but I’ll just finish this thought with the statement that childhood should be simple and uncomplicated by social pressures to conform to any image outside of their God-given, vivid, and uninhibited imaginations. It is the best possible foundation for them to achieve what they are driven to achieve for their own and God’s purposes, rather than for the conditional, ever fleeting approval and acceptance of others.
Do I think there is value to battling through some of these painful obstacles in order to build character? Yes, I do. Do I think homeschooling completely removes these pressures? No, I don’t. My children have loads of friends, play sports, go to church and play in the neighborhood with all sorts of character building issues to work through every day. Life is hard and necessarily builds character whatever route you take. But remember, I can live out my ideals with my children the way I want to, and so I do. I want to be there when my children are experiencing life’s hardships with a voice of reason, compassion, and healthy perspectives. I just don’t want to leave that job to a teacher with 30 or more students in a room and, let’s face it, not always, but often times coming from a damaged and unhealthy perspective themselves. I don’t have to, and so I don’t.
Oh, gosh, and do I ever love their curriculum! Every single day we read books together and on their own about individuals who lead amazing, family, community or even world changing lives. They work through difficult challenges and obstacles to accomplish what they are driven to accomplish. They stand up to pressures to compromise who they are or what they should be doing at all personal costs. It is a curriculum that views the whole world through a lens of love and compassion for all people, even those who have wronged us or who we disagree with, and encourages my children to never use life’s trials to excuse themselves from doing the right things. My children are not being raised to embrace prideful, self-entitled, American patriotism, but rather to be grateful for and humbled by all of life’s blessings including being born into a country where we are free to make choices for our own lives and then use those choices to bless those around us as well as the rest of the world.
I get to teach critical thought and basic values through which to evaluate the world around them. Though we don’t do politics around here, of course, my information is bias. However, we don’t bash or worship Obama or the democrats. We don’t glorify the republicans. We talk about all leaders and legislation in the light of those basic values and thought processes, and we teach respect for our God given leaders even when they do things we disagree with. We discuss all possible responses to legislation or bad leadership, and I allow my children to express their own reaction to each situation without forcing them to think the way I want them to think. I just pray that some of their reactions mature over the years, as I am sure they will. I enjoy being the one to lay a foundation of free, and critical thought, and so I do.
Then there are life skills. I can’t take so many hours a day to school the children and do everything else on my own, so it is necessary that the children pitch in and help. From a very young age they could handle their own breakfasts and sort their own laundry. We talk about how to construct a balanced meal, and then we make one. We run errands and they are with me, listening to me deal with cashiers, and learning how to compare prices and match sales with coupons. They can clean and reorganize their own bedrooms and help with yard work. We can babysit and they change the diapers and care for the children. We drive and discuss traffic laws and road rage and discuss all matters of life and living while we do. Satellite radio in the van becomes music class as I make the kids hold the melody in their favorite songs while I harmonize, and then teach them the harmony. At any given moment they have a zillion pressing questions that must be carefully answered, and since I don’t have to delegate that time to anyone else for any extended period of time, I don’t, and that’s wonderful to me.
And what about the life skill of being able to function as a family? We have to work through our issues or we’ll steep in them. There is nowhere to go to escape our feelings, so we all must develop communication skills, grace, unconditional love and forgiveness for each other if we don’t want to live with constant anger and frustration. I’d say that’s a rather important “class” I teach every single day.
I love having the flexibility to travel whenever we want to for however long we want to, schedule doctors’ appointments at times of day with no wait, and live life when it needs to happen rather than structure it completely around academics. A friend had to deal with the sudden death of his father, and then had to deal with Georgia’s family services at his door for pulling his children out of school too long for the funeral. A funeral is an unexcused absence in the public school system here, and that is a shame. In the end these friends did not get into any trouble with the law, but to have to defend themselves for grieving the death of a father. . . And since I’m so grateful that I don’t have to deal with that, I don’t.
I loved watching my children take their first bites, and their first steps, ride bike, swim in the deep end all on their own, and all the things most parents live to experience with their children. For me, that doesn’t end with enrolling a child in kindergarten. I love being the one to watch them sound out their first word, see their satisfaction with mastering math facts, connect two abstract concepts on their own, or write their first, complete sentence. I love being there to see them do something selfless for another person as that is as foundational to our curriculum as basic reading, writing or arithmetic. I could send my kids out to school and take life easier, but then I will grieve the loss of our 1:00 Monday afternoon “class” at storehouse ministries, packing boxes of food for the homeless, or feeding the homeless man we drove past on the way to our 10:00am field trip to the history museum.
Oh, yeah, and then my last point in a not completely comprehensive list of reasons why I homeschool when I don’t have to is related to the academics. To be clear, I am actually an advocate for public schools. Society as a whole benefits from a system where each child is engaged in compulsory education. If you don’t believe that, you’ve never been to the developing world. However, when I see my own children, I see that I’ve got that brainy, excessively academic child, and that creative, free-spirited child with learning disabilities, and that imaginative child who can’t stop talking or hold still for more than 5 seconds, and that child who can’t concentrate unless everything is still and silent. They are all typical children with unique needs and because they are mine and I have a vested interest seeing them all meet their fullest potential, I can tailor their education in a way no institutionalized setting can to meet those needs and work through their unique challenges.
I’ve taken many classes and will take more on how to manage it all and teach to their strengths and weaknesses and understand their academic struggles and brain functions. A world of help and support is out there for me and for them. Considering we have access to all of that, and I desire to navigate through it all for the satisfaction I get from giving something my all and seeing it pay off from time to time in my own children’s lives and even in the lives of those they touch, I continue to do it because I can. The day may come when I can’t . . .Well, actually, they will grow up and this time will come to an end, but while I still can, I reflect on these things to give me strength for the years ahead, and to remind myself to feel grateful for the privilege of living out my ideals the way my heart desires. It is a unique blessing that I fully understand is not available to all, so I try not to squander it or take it for granted or arrogantly make it a standard by which all should live. I homeschool my children when I don’t have to because I can, so I do, and that’s that.
SCHOOOOOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER!! Evan completed 4th, Julia 3rd, Harrison 2nd and Eli completed kindergarten.
The kids show off their new hiking footwear for our big summer trip out west to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.