Homeschooling is hard. Personalities clash. Self-doubt is ever-present. The line between mom and educator grows increasingly thin. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely worth it. Patrice Fagnant-Macarthur from Today’s Catholic Homeschooling takes an honest look at the ups and downs of homeschooling in this honest and encouraging read.
Before I began homeschooling, I did my homework. I read every magazine and book on the topic I could find. According to these resources, homeschooling was wonderful, filled with happy children eager to learn who never fought with their siblings! Why would I not want to embrace this ideal lifestyle?
I understand why those writers described only the best days of homeschooling. Despite its growing popularity, homeschooling is still a fringe movement often put on the defensive. As a result, homeschoolers often feel the need to show other people a rose-colored view.
Unfortunately, this idealized portrayal of homeschooling does homeschoolers a disservice. When our lives, homes, and children don’t match this picture, we may wonder what’s wrong and be ready to throw in the towel because homeschooling is obviously not working for us.
I’ve been homeschooling for ten years. My children are 17, 15, and 7. I’m here to tell you that homeschooling, like parenting itself, is hard. I’ve cried many tears, spent hours in prayer asking for guidance and strength, and sometimes wondered how my children and I were going to make it through another day. Yet, here we still are, and it has been totally worth the rocky journey.
What are some of the challenges that make homeschooling hard?
Being Stuck in the House
This is often a weather-related issue. As much as several homeschooling methods advocate being outside every day, most children have no real desire to be outside playing on cold, dreary, wet days. Where I live, that’s four to five months of the year. Everyone’s personalities start to grate on each other. My youngest child’s boundless energy has nowhere to go. Winter depression settles like a dark cloud over the house. Even our dog is ready to surrender. By February, things are looking mighty ugly. This is the time of year when homeschoolers look at the local school like a mirage in the desert. There is a reason for that old homeschooling adage: Never make educational decisions in February.
Motivating Unmotivated Students
You’ve probably seen the stories of high-achieving homeschooled students: the ones who start college at 12; the musical prodigies; the winners of the National Spelling Bee. These homeschoolers are real people and it is wonderful that homeschooling is an option for these gifted students. Then, there are others of us, dealing with children who, if given the choice, would never go near a math problem or write a paragraph; children who generally do everything in their power to avoid anything resembling school.
These students require some creative thinking. They may have special needs that need to be accommodated. They may require a different curriculum or educational method. They sometimes need rewards for successfully completing even small amounts of their work. And often, you simply have to decide which homeschool battles you are willing to fight.
Dealing with your own character flaws
Your children are not perfect. Neither are you. Homeschooling offers lots of opportunities to work on virtues like patience, understanding, and wisdom. Did I mention patience? Over time, homeschooling can bring out the best in us, refining us in this trial by fire. It can also bring out the worst. Schedule the Sacrament of Reconciliation into your life. You’re going to need it.
Lack of adult interaction
As a homeschooler, you are going to spend most of your days home alone with children. While teens can be good conversationalists, younger children can leave you feeling like you haven’t had an intelligent conversation in days. You can end up desperate to spend some time with other grown-ups.
When you homeschool, there is no one to blame but yourself when your children aren’t learning or behaving well. On bad days, it’s easy to believe that you are ruining your children’s lives, that they are going to end up unemployed and living in a box because you failed. Unsupportive family members may add to the pressure. Social media posts of “perfect” homeschool moments or traditional school-related achievements can crush your spirit. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that this homeschooling life could ever be successful.
Yet, with all these challenges, homeschooling is still worth it, and I can’t imagine our lives any other way. Why?
Every child is different. While schools do what they can, it simply isn’t possible for a teacher to individualize instruction for each child. Homeschoolers can do this. We can accommodate for special needs, learning styles, and interests. We can allow our children to proceed at their own pace. If needed, we can find them specialized teachers, either in real-life or on-line, to help them learn what they want or need to learn. We can give our children the opportunity to develop their strengths and work on their weaknesses. We can help them become the people God made them to be.
Children who are homeschooled are exposed to the real world. They accompany their parents on errands, learn what it takes to manage a household, and have the opportunity to interact with people of various ages. Real-life does not entail spending six or more hours a day with a group of people who are the same age as you.
Homeschooling is time-efficient. Even high-school students can complete their studies in much less time than their traditionally-educated counterparts. This leaves lots of time for play, the pursuit of personal interests, extra-curricular activities, and family life.
Homeschooling also allows for adjustments when life is in a time of crisis. There are times when academic work needs to take a backseat in order for something else to be a priority.
It also gives children the ability to sleep in the morning. Sleep-deprivation is a real problem in our society and children are not immune. Getting enough sleep allows children to academically perform better and to behave better.
Ability to Live a Catholic Life
Catholic homeschoolers are able to prioritize and incorporate our faith in every aspect of our life. We can pray anytime, celebrate liturgical seasons and feast days, and offer formal instruction in the Scriptures and Catechism. Our children are able to see us model our faith in our daily lives. That example will offer our children a strong foundation that will last much longer than any academic lesson.
A Stronger Relationship with Your Children
My children and I have our rough spots. There are days we don’t get along. My oldest son is eager for independence and is literally counting down the days until he can move out next year, yet overall, our relationship is strong. We have spent so much time together over the course of our homeschooling journey that we truly know and respect each other. We generally enjoy each other’s company. My children have friends and spend plenty of time with their peers, but those peers have not become the primary influence in their lives. I don’t know what our relationship would have looked like had my teens attended traditional school, but I feel strongly that this has been one of the great gifts of homeschooling.
Homeschooling is hard.
We can’t do it without God’s help. But, if God has called us to this life, he will give us the strength to get through each day. Take one day at a time and know that whether you homeschool for a season or a lifetime, the challenge is worth it for the gifts you are providing your children.
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