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My Homsechooling Odyssey, Part II: Why I Had to Quit Homeschooling

I loved homeschooling.  I came to believe in it so strongly that I began to think it was really the only responsible way to educate children; if you really cared about your children, you would homeschool them—period.  I gained tremendous satisfaction, both from teaching my children and from the physical proximity of my children.  I soaked up their sweetness and affection; they loved me and needed me as only children can.  My husband’s job required him to travel more and more, and I felt security in being with my children.  I felt a tangible sense of doing something worthwhile; my mind was full of ideas for ways to make what we were doing even better, and my life was filled with purpose.

Before long, however, I had trouble falling asleep at night because of all my ideas.  I often woke up in the middle of the night, agonizing over my perceived failures in communicating some important lesson;  I’d write lists of things that I needed to change, or tortured prayers about desperate fears I had regarding my children, and make new resolutions about how I would “do better”.  I compared myself to others, either patting myself on the back because I thought I was doing a better job than they were, or chastising myself for not doing enough.  I found fault with my husband when he didn’t intuitively grasp what I felt he should be doing as my “assistant” (which was, unfortunately, more and more how I viewed him), and our relationship began to suffer as it sat on the back burner; for some reason, my husband didn’t want to spend every private moment discussing “school."

As my children grew, the demands increased.  I had a miscarriage, then another baby.  I felt the need to find more outlets for the older children, opportunities to be in sports or to develop hobbies.  The younger ones still needed close supervision in their schoolwork, and I was always finding different materials to use, so I couldn’t rely on old lesson plans.   At one point I decided to make daily, detailed lesson plans for each child, for each day of the year, including a section on character qualities that needed to be developed; this took an entire, exhausting month.

The kids were great—I had trained them well as far as chores were concerned, so the house was always in pretty good shape, and they really were each other’s best friends.  I enjoyed cooking, so mealtimes weren’t a major problem, and my husband was really supportive, helping with laundry, doing groceries most of the time, and always taking an interest in what the kids were doing.  But loss of sleep, greater physical demands, my perfectionistic tendencies, and general fatigue began to take their toll.  I began to sink into depression.

There were many days when I felt completely overwhelmed.  I’d go into the bathroom so I could cry without the kids seeing it, get a grip, and come back out.  My reserve of patience grew very low, and I felt less and less in control of things.  My husband, seeing what was happening, tried to gently suggest putting one or more of the children in school, but I resisted this tooth and nail—I felt he was implying I couldn’t handle it, and that he’d somehow reneged on his commitment to homeschooling.

Outwardly, I maintained an appearance of being on top of everything.  I was asked to speak to a women’s group at church—we were new there, and they said they’d never seen such well-behaved, well-adjusted children.  Soon after, I was contacted by a local news station; they were running a series on disciplining children and had heard about our family; they wanted to come into our home to find out what my “secret” was.  I agreed to both those things, all the while fearing that if they knew what a mess I really was, they would never have asked.  A voice in my brain kept telling me I was a total fake, that I had nothing worthwhile to share with anyone—who did I think I was, anyway?

One of the lowest moments came as I was doing the grocery shopping.  I remember being overwhelmed on the cereal aisle:   “What kind of cereal should I get?  It needs to be healthy . . . grapenuts and shredded wheat. . .  I’m always so hard on the kids!  They should have a normal childhood and enjoy normal things! . . .  Frosted flakes . . .I never even let them have friends over because I’m so uptight . . .  I’m messing them up . . .  I’m really not a good mother. . . No, shredded wheat. . . No, frosted flakes, they’ll be happier and more well-adjusted . . .I’m such a loser!  I can’t even make a decision!”  I wandered through the store with nothing in my basket, tears streaming down my face.  Whatever I ended up choosing, I’m sure I felt guilty about it.

My husband encouraged me to do something I enjoyed, but I couldn’t think of anything—nothing.  I remember getting a massage one time; the therapist asked me several polite, get-to-know-you questions;  you know what I said?  Nothing. 

Once, when I was trying to come up with a password to open my first email account, the only things I could come up with had the word “mother” in them somewhere; when my husband said to choose something just about myself, I just started crying—I felt I had no identity, no interests, no hobbies.

At one point, I found myself sympathizing with people I’d read about who’d killed all the members of their family, then themselves—if I just killed myself, I’d be the ultimate bad mother, but if everyone went with me, they’d all be in heaven, and wouldn’t have to deal with what I’d done.  Of course, after thinking those thoughts, I was appalled at myself.  I was cynical about everything, felt critical of everyone and everything, and in my mind there was a nearly constant stream of hateful comments and profanity, mostly directed at myself.

Long story short, I went to the doctor, he prescribed antidepressants, and it did help—a lot.  A counselor told me if I didn’t stop homeschooling I’d destroy my marriage, and possibly my health.  That was the permission I needed to do what, to me, seemed very much like giving up.  For awhile I struggled with a sense of having failed—other people were able to homeschool their kids all the way through highschool; why couldn’t I?  By this time, though, I knew I had to do it.

When I told my kids we weren’t going to homeschool anymore, I sobbed.  I was so sad, because I wanted everything to stay the same; I wanted to keep those precious moments, to hold on to my babies!  The kids, however, were fine with it; they were up for a new adventure!  We found a good private school for them to attend, and while there were of course things I didn’t love about it, it was a good experience for all of us; they gained from the other adults, other viewpoints, new friends and experiences they encountered.

I gained from the act of letting go. My recovery was a gradual process, involving a lot of sitting and soaking up the tangible silence.  Eventually, however, I gained new satisfaction from driving the kids to and from school, attending their activities, and enjoying a different kind of interaction with them.  I took a couple of correspondence classes, and a trip with a friend.  I began to regain my footing and my identity.

Four of my kids graduated from that high school.  My youngest had a mix of that school, homeschool, and a local classical school (I taught there for 5 years and was headmaster for nearly three) before sending her to a classical high school in Memphis for her last two years.  I’d gone from believing it was wrong not to homeschool and wrong for a mother to work outside the home, to sending my own flesh and blood out of state and working full time!

While my story cannot be viewed as typical—everyone’s story is different—I learned some important truths about myself, and about the process of homeschooling itself that I think are fairly universal.  In Part III I’ll describe what I believe are some fundamental issues that should be taken into consideration before making the decision to homeschool.  Stay tuned!

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