Whenever someone finds out that I home school, I’m usually met with this standard response: “I could never do that. (Insert child’s name here) and I would kill each other.” Since I usually know these moms very well and can assure you that they, nor their children, face any real mortal danger, I usually smile and nod knowingly. Recently, when a friend asked how homeschooling was going she said, “I’d love to do that, but I’m afraid my daughter and I would kill each other,” it hit me: people must think that my daughter and I have a relationship that ensures our home school routine is smooth and pleasant. Dothey think we have somehow escaped the rigors of relationship battles that accompany schooling your own children? Friends, I am here to assure you that is not the case. I can assure you that my children and I battle on a pretty regular basis.
Those of us who are proponents of home school, I’m afraid, often present it as the cure for all that ails then remain mum on any of the challenges that often accompany the sometimes awkward, daily transition from mom to teacher back to mom. I know I’ve failed to be entirely transparent with the struggles A and I have overcome to make home schooling work for us because I didn’t want to deter from the prodigious benefits of this educational choice. That’s not fair to the parents seriously weighing their options as they consider home schooling. While I remain steadfast in my role of home schooling’s biggest cheerleader, I want those who make this choice to understand the considerable, yet surmountable, obstacles you’ll face.
The first six months were the most challenging for my strong-willed daughter and me. So many pencils flew through the air in frustration that I seriously considered posting a note on the door that said “Enter at Your Own Risk” or “Safety Helmet Required.” When she wasn’t throwing pencils at the wall, she was breaking them in two, which I counted as strength training in P.E. Why let good instruction go to waste? There were a few days I sat watching her writhe in the floor ripping her paper into pieces because she couldn’t grasp a concept, wondering how so many of her father’s genes had worked their way into her personality. On those days, I would call my husband. Me: I can’t do this anymore. What was I thinking? Him: That bad, huh. Me, through sobs: If I started sprinting now, do you think I could run down the school bus? Then, I would pray for guidance and strength, which God always graciously provided, and try a new approach. Each day brought a better understanding of my new role in my daughter’s life and though there were setbacks, especially when a new, difficult concept was introduced, A’s attitude improved and my vision and philosophy of what our home school should be became clearer.
Part of my daughter’s frustration lay in my misguided attempt to replicate school at home. She wondered why I had removed her from the classroom and brought her home to another classroom that usually served as her comfortable, inviting home, a home where she was normally free to play. She also wondered where her mommy had gone and who was this dictatorial drill sergeant barking commands. It was an adjustment to have your mom suddenly become your teacher. It wasalso difficult for me to transition into being both her mom and her teacher, though all parents serve in that capacity from the moment their little one is born, teaching them to speak, walk, write, etc.. For me, because I was concerned about what other people would think if A fell behind or wasn’t achieving milestones as quickly as her peers, I became more concerned with her performance than with the process and inadvertently placed pressure on her to learn at the same pace her traditionally schooled-peers were learning. Yet, the opportunity to learn at her natural pace in a way that suited her learning style is one of the things about homeschooling that appealed to us the most.
Once I began to trust my instincts and allowed A to have more say in what we studied and how we arranged our school day, her attitude improved dramatically. When I made her part of the process, she saw that I respected her as an individual and valued her insights into how she learned. I quit trying to imitate a traditional school classroom because as a home schooling parent, you aren’t bound by the restrictions that must be implemented for a class of 25 students to function effectively. Homeschooling isn’t just school, in the traditional sense, at home. It offers significant freedom, and once I began to loosen up, stop worrying about what others thought or expected, and trusted my knowledge of my daughter, my knowledge of education, and my knowledge of her unique learning style, A and I battled much less frequently, and she progressed significantly.
This year has been much easier, especially now that we have settled into a routine that works for both of us and have accepted each other as teacher and student, but it doesn’t mean that every day runs smoothly. “Why do I need to learn to multiply? Why do I have to know this? When will I ever use this? I don’t understand what you mean.” are whined phrases that often resound, but who among us hasn’t wondered the same thing? (Before I started tutoring algebra, I often wondered when on earth I would actually use it then voila. I now use it every day.) Now, there is much less pencil throwing and fewer fits of frustration. A is learning to better channel her exasperation into motivation to try harder, and I’m learning to really listen to my daughter. Teaching her to write has been a challenge, but I now remind myself that it isn’t something that has to be accomplished at this moment, and she usually learns most material quite well in her own time. The minute I continue to push her when she clearly isn’t ready the more likely she is to erupt into a meltdown.
So, yes, building an effective working relationship in home school is difficult but not impossible. I definitely understand the friction that exists when parents attempt to help their child learn a new skill. Aspects of that dynamic have actually helped me build my business as a professional tutor. Yet, for parents who are seriously considering home schooling as an option, I don’t want the conflict that will probably accompany the first six months to prevent them from going ahead with their plans. Once the structure is outlined and our children clearly understand our expectations, and we work with our children to establish an educational model that best fits our family, home schooling begins to work beautifully.
I wouldn’t trade those first rocky few months. The obstacles A and I faced (and that I will soon face with C) actually strengthened our relationship and our understanding of each other. It also revealed to me shortcomings in my own character. I was often driven to my knees in prayer, which taught me to pursue a greater reliance on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. God’s strength became perfect in my weakness, and He taught me how to parent in His power. Those are lessons I don’t believe I would have learned as effectively otherwise. Those struggles have also equipped me to openly share with other parents how demanding, yet rewarding home schooling can be. Two years later, A and I are reaping the rewards of our hard work. She is thriving in our new routine, and I’m allowed each day to observe with joy her excitement when she grasps a difficult problem or understands a new concept. Rather than melting down in a puddle of frustration, she is now more likely to persevere. I love being there to share the light bulb moments. So, hang in there homeschooling moms, it will never be perfect, but it certainly gets easier. And, if you think a perfect parent/child relationship is necessary to even considering pursuing this path, be heartened to know that very few, if any, homeschooling parents transitioned smoothly into their routine. We’ve all wondered if we’re cut out for this path. I believe that if you feel God has called you to this lifestyle, then He will certainly equip you with the tools necessary to succeed.