I home schooled for a while.
While I did, we lived on one income. And my life was consumed with caring for four small children and making everything, including pudding, from scratch because it was cheaper. This family has eaten their fill of ham-less split pea soup and depression-era bread.
I know many families who choose to home school make sacrifices to make it happen. I know it annoys them when people with professionally kept hair and nails who drive reliable and fairly nice cars and go out to movies and out to eat a lot comment, “It must be nice to be able to stay home.” Whether you home school or not, for any mom who makes financial sacrifices to stay at home the comment is equally grating. (Friends, if you home school or home schooled, please scroll down to the bottom of this letter past my signature right now and read a special note to you before you read any further.)**
And then again, mom who wishes she could home school, you know that it really must be nice. Because in spite of your home-schooling friends’ protestations that you can make it work you know there are reasons you cannot. Some are fairly obvious, and you wish your friends would just stop talking about how great home school is and how they’d never put their kids in school in a sort of way that makes you feel like somehow you’ve chosen a lower road and there is no hope for you ever of being a mom anyone would want to be like because not only are you not home-schooling but you put your kids in public school.
I know those reasons.
Because I home schooled for a while . . . and then I couldn’t.
And it wasn’t until I could and then I couldn’t that I noticed how much the Christian community often glorifies home schooling to a level of spirituality unattainable for a whole lot of women.
Dear mom who wishes she could home school and absolutely cannot, I know you’ve noticed this.
And I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like you were less than a wise, spiritual and sacrificial and mom. You are doing it all alone. All of it. With no one to earn even a small income to let you stay at home and spend exhausting days teaching little ones to read while feeding a baby, staying up late to prepare science experiments, learning advanced math to keep up with your high schooler, scrounging car change to buy a bag of split peas. Shame on us if we ever gracelessly rubbed home school in your face.
My reasons for not home schooling are different from yours. But we made a choice and you never had one.
Maybe you are like me. Maybe it’s not that you have no husband. Maybe at some point you had to choose between your marriage or home schooling.
Maybe you had to choose between health or home schooling. Maybe you had to choose between a healthy relationship with your child or home schooling. And maybe you will never, ever tell any of these reasons to anyone, so I will tell you mine just so you know you are not alone.
In my house, a raging battle with addiction elevated the stress level during the home school years to extremely unhealthy.
Our kids needed a break. I was unable to focus on anything but how on earth this marriage was going to make it. My strength was sapped by late nights arguing and worrying over how another unexpected debt would be resolved, and why I didn’t know about it yet again. My temper was short with the 5 year old who knew how to read and could not be taught the purpose of silent e because he already knew far better than me. Trying to teach math concepts to a variety of cognitive levels strained my patience and my brain to the point where there was no capacity to be both mom and teacher at the same time. No one learns math from a yeller. Or maybe they learn to hate math. We didn’t need the added stress of private school tuition — we couldn’t afford it. No. Really could not.
The answer for us was public school. And the school our boys landed in turned out to be the most amazing blessing we could ever have imagined. Sure, we had a couple of teacher struggles. Sure, as a former teacher, there were things I thought could have been done better. But our boys got the stability they did not have at home. Through losing a job, an amazing camp home, they went to a public school that wrapped their arms around our family in a way we never knew could come from anywhere but a community of believers.
For our oldest the transition from home school was harder. Middle school was not great time to jump into the system at all. But with the help and support of the district’s home school program for secondary students, some classes at the high school and some at a local community college, a very dear friend who generously folded her into her own daughter’s home school days to learn Latin and life, a few fantastic music teachers and a great base of support in local theatre, she managed to piece together a pretty incredible high school education.
Hear me, mom who wishes she could home school and cannot, God knows.
* * * * *
You would think that a person who had wanted to home school so badly would be really involved in their kids’ schools.
For a while I was. I was an art docent. I went on field trips. But I had to work, too (which is a topic for another post). I tried to get a job with the district, but there were no job openings for part-time English teachers (I will never teach high school English full time again — it’s actually TWO full time jobs), and the job I chose to stick with was consuming and not a good fit for moms trying to do it all who are not very adept at trying to do it all.
It wasn’t that I didn’t volunteer or go to my kids’ things. Just not a lot of school day things. I was at the theatre or soccer games or meets after school/after work. But it was hard to be at school. Hard because for a lot of years, being in a school reminded me of all I had given up.
And then I got to know you better, moms who wished they could and moms who home schooled until they couldn’t. And moms who never did and never wanted to. And I didn’t feel so bad anymore. In high school, there is a comfortable blend of all sorts of moms. As so many women around me who once home schooled are going to work, I’ve noticed that our lives are becoming more alike even as they have drifted away from the days of home school co-op.
* * * * *
I would be lying if I told you I don’t wish any more.
Still, the beautiful ideal to me is a hard but simple farm life and a dining room table school. But that’s not my life at all, and I think after kicking against the goads and wishing my life was something it wasn’t for too many years, I’ve finally accepted that it is what it is.
For the first time maybe ever, I waltzed in to the parent teacher conference arena last week in confidence that my parent/work/life/educator world was exactly what it should be. And I looked teachers in the eye as they told me some things I didn’t know about my kids, and I wasn’t ashamed that I didn’t know. I know plenty of good moms of teenagers — home-schooled or not — who don’t know them either.
* * * * *
If you made it this far in this very long letter, I’m guessing it’s because you’ve felt the same as me. Your wishes have been on my heart for so long, I just had to blurt it out all at once, as though you asked and I answered over coffee. I don’t want to go back and cut out words that might be important to you.
Dear mom who wishes, keep living the life you’ve been given and not the one you wish you had.
And please never feel like you’ve missed it all when you can’t do the thing you really cannot do. You know those things. You talk with God about them — a lot. And maybe you sometimes you yell at Him. Or maybe you yell at your husband. Or maybe you yell at the collection agent harassing you over your medical bills . . . . because it hurts.
Give your wishes to God and pick up the now and embrace it. I wish I had done that a long time ago.
** Dear mom who home schools her children, I respect so much what you do, and I know it isn’t easy. And I know some of you who keep on and kept on in spite of incredibly difficult things in your home. But this post is for women who sincerely wishes she could home school, but for one reason or other cannot. And by that I mean a mom who is a single mom who has to work outside her home to provide for her children. Or maybe there is someone in their home battling addiction to alcohol or drugs and school offers stability they don’t have at home. Or she has health issues or one of her children has issues that make it impossible to give them both love and an education. Or her husband lost his job and they are struggling to make it financially. Or her husband is not supportive of home schooling at all. So please, I admire you so much and would be grieved if you took offense at my post. It’s meant to encourage women like me.