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My Homeschooling Odyssey, Part III: What I Learned

In my last post I shared the struggles I experienced during the years that I homeschooled my five children.  Before moving into Part III, I want to clarify something: I do not blame homeschooling for my problems, nor do I regret having homeschooled.  Also, there were other elements complicating things that I haven’t shared with you.

Nevertheless, I believe there are potential pitfalls inherent in the homeschooling experience that you should be aware of, especially if you:   

a) have perfectionistic tendencies, and/or, 

b)  have three or more children, and/or, 

c)  are committed to high standards of academic rigor and excellence, especially if these standards are higher than your own education provided.   

(NOTE:  Part of the beauty of homeschooling is that you can customize it to the goals of your own family.  Some prefer a more easygoing approach, some focus on the arts, some prefer a more traditional, structured approach, etc.–all can be very effective, but the demands of each are obviously going to be different.)

Here are some things I learned, in no particular order:

Be careful not to view homeschooling as “the answer” or even “the best” way of educating children.

Let’s face it.  Most people who homeschool for any length of time do it because they believe in it and/or love it.  You just have to be careful not to develop tunnel vision; it isolates you and alienates you from those whose path is different, which is really quite a lot of people!

Focus on your marriage more than your children.

Your children would not exist if not for your marriage; your marriage preceded your children and will continue long after your children are grown and gone, if you take care of it!  This is harder than it may sound, but there’s nothing more vital to your children’s well-being than parents with a healthy, solid marriage!  I’m not suggesting you neglect your children, but simply that your primary relationship, the one that keeps you balanced, is your relationship with your spouse.  Children don’t thrive as the center of the universe, and do not exist to provide you with something satisfying to do.

Maintain your friends and hobbies.

Homeschooling is very time-intensive.  If you aren’t careful, you can easily become isolated from friends and lose interest in the world around you.  To avoid obsessing over every detail of school, and to provide balance (as well as other things to talk to your husband about!), schedule time for activities completely unrelated to school and childrearing issues.

Vary your reading material.

This is a corollary to the above point.  Avoid reading lots of homeschool magazines and parenting books.  A little is fine, but this can easily cause you to needlessly question everything you’re doing, and leads to late-night agonies and expensive, unnecessary purchases.  Mysteries, novels, classics, whatever–spend some time reading for relaxation and enjoyment!

Listen to your husband.

You should do this anyway, but unfortunately, a lot of  us women tend to view our husbands as hopelessly incapable of understanding what we’re going through  (among other things!).  Not to oversimplify, but men tend to be bigger picture beings, and women tend to be more aware of details.  All the more reason to ask your husband for his input, and listen to it!  He knows you–and your blind spots–better than nearly anyone.  Very often we are most blind when it comes to our children.  Don’t discount what he says!

Don’t go too far; set markers and stick to them.

Homeschool mothers often say they’re just going to “take it a year at a time”, meaning they’re leaving the option of traditional school open, and will make a decision each year as to whether or not they will continue homeschooling.  For me, this actually meant, “I fully intend to do this all the way through high school, but I know my husband is nervous about that, so I’ll string him along, and each year try to convince him we should do it just once more.” 

First of all, that’s not fair or honest.  Second, in my opinion–which I realize is not shared by all–homeschooling is most effective in the early elementary years, and in most cases it is best for all concerned (assuming you have access to a decent school) not to homeschool beyond 6th or 7th grade 

The decision of how long to homeschool should be made based on particular criteria that should be discussed, agreed upon, and written down by both parents before beginning to homeschoolRegardless of the educational path you decide on, it is of the utmost importance to have an agreed-upon vision for your family.  Your vision will determine the path you take:  the traditions you set,  the way you handle chores and mealtimes, whether or not you attend church, what you do for vacations, how you handle TV and other media, and a host of other decisions that will need to be made.

Maintain a sense of humor, and have a glass of wine from time to time!

I’m by nature a very serious person.  I was so intent on doing a good job of homeschooling that I had difficulty laughing at myself and the ordinary situations of daily life.  I think my husband and kids would have really appreciated it if I’d had a glass of wine from time to time, just so I could relax a bit!

In retrospect, if I had it all to do over again, I’d do nearly everything the same!  As I said in Part I, homeschooling was a tremendous blessing for our family, and I don’t regret it.  BUT, there are things I would change.  First of all, I would focus more on my husband and less on my children.  I would ask him for an honest assessment of my handling of things, and to help me maintain balance.  I would develop a hobby and pursue it; I would not spend all of my social time with other homeschool moms, but would cultivate other friendships as well.  I’d enjoy reading a mystery from time to time, instead of obsessing over the latest curriculum, or refining our latest chore chart.  I would find a good classical Christian school, and send my children to it as they reached whatever age my husband and I deemed suitable. 

And, a glass of wine from time to time would be part of life; as the Bible says, “wine to gladden the heart of man.”  A little liquid gladness at the end of a stressful day would have benefited all of us, I think!

If you are considering homeschooling, I applaud you.  If you decide not to homeschool, I applaud you.  Each family must find its own vision, set its own course.  Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, and in solidarity with your spouse.  Cheers!

Please, share your experiences!  Whether you were homeschooled as a child, are currently homeschooling, love it, hate it, never thought of it, are committed to public or private school, whatever–I’d love to hear from you, and others would, too!  Please comment, and share on Facebook or Twitter!

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