It was a typical homeschooling day. My 8-year-old, Jason, walked into the living room and saw me reading the morning paper.
He scowled. "What are we going to do today? Nothing, as usual?"
The accusation stung. "We do lots of things!" I insisted.
"Not every day!" he fired back.
My son was right. Although I had good intentions, my teaching was inconsistent at best. How did it get like this? I wondered.
From the time they were babies I knew I wanted to teach Amanda and Jason at home. Kids taught at home reportedly did better academically, outpacing other students on standardized tests. They also showed better self-esteem because they were less peer-oriented than kids in school. Best of all, homeschooling meant my husband and I could transmit our values to them without competition from New Age philosophies or humanistic views. How could I not do something that promised so much?
I began researching methods, and heeding the best advice I could find. I developed a customized approach that practically guaranteed success. We didn't do "school" every day, so I had time to run errands, do housework, or visit friendsno burnout for me! We joined a support group and enjoyed field trips and classes with other familieswe'd never feel isolated. I based our curriculum on my children's strengths and intereststhey'd love learning.
Sure enough, things went well at first. I loved teaching Amanda and Jason to read, and they were eager learners. I was sure we would turn out the kind of children any parent would want: smart, confident, and self-motivated.
But there were problems ahead.
As the kids got older and there was more to teach them, staying prepared grew more difficult. I began to dread getting out of bed in the morning for another day of school. Many days we really did end up doing nothing. To make matters worse, I took their progress personally. After all, I was the teacher. If they didn't succeed, it was my fault!
It was no picnic for my children, either. I drove Amanda to tears of frustration with my unrealistic demands. "Why don't you know how to spell that?" I'd scold. "You just had it on your test last week!" When she had to take her first standardized test, Amanda was so anxious she refused. The idea of being timed and evaluated stressed her out so much she ripped up the answer sheet and fled to her room.
Meanwhile, Jason and I clashed almost daily. Although Jason was an excellent reader, he didn't enjoy reading like I had as a child. Strong-willed, he wanted to do his schoolwork in his own way, and as fast as possible so he could go play. His sloppy handwriting drove me crazy. When I'd correct his inventive ways of forming certain letters, he'd tell me, "This is the way I do it." I had no authority as a teacher.
My disappointment was immense. Where were the eager, self-directed learners I'd read so much about? These two acted like normal kids. My passion was gone, too. I'd been so certain this was the right choice for us, but now I just wasn't sure.
All the way along our homeschooling road, I'd sought the advice of friends. Some encouraged me to stick it out and try new techniques. Others, though, questioned my decision to homeschool. A teacher friend told me, "I could never teach my daughter. Our personalities clash too much." I could relate, but didn't want to let go of my dream of a happy homeschooling family. My husband's grandmother wrote me a letter saying things like, "They need someone else to teach them," and "They need to be away from you for part of the day." I thought, She just doesn't understand. I want to be sure my kids live for the Lord, and this will guarantee it.
Even as it became clear that we were failing, I held on tighter. I felt like I had to prove to the world and myself that I could do this. Homeschooling seems so right for so many families, I'd tell myself. Surely it's right for mine, too.
Every few months I'd read about a new product for spelling, or math, or science, and excitedly buy it. Often the change of material renewed our interest, but it also caused a lack of continuity, and a lot of holes in my kids' education.
I prayed for God's help, and often felt him nudging, "Trust me. Send them to school." My husband, Neal, believed the kids would be fine in public school, but I was still afraid to give up control. So I redoubled my efforts. I'd read another book, go to a new seminar, talk to a homeschooling friend, all to convince myself that I was doing the right thing.
Then reality hit. Their first "official" test scores came in. They were so bad that I knew the kids needed to go to school. But how could I send them when they were so far behind? The teachers would know I was a fraud. I'd give all the other homeschoolers a bad name.
The final problem was social. Homeschool advocates say kids don't need to go to school for social interaction, and that may be true for many kids. But my kids were lonely. They had lots of contacts, but not many close friends. They had a few friends at church, but they didn't live close by. Jason joined a homeschool band in the sixth grade, but only saw those kids two hours a week. He didn't have any neighborhood friends, and was often bored and angry. I felt worn out trying to orchestrate social activities for him.
Jason began asking to go to school, blaming me for his having no friends. Amanda was apathetic. She didn't want to learn at home, but she wasn't sure she wanted to go to school, either.
God continued to whisper, "Let go." I continued to resistso much so that I began to have stomach problems. Then one day I wandered into a Christian bookstore, and found a new book on homeschooling. I thumbed through it, wondering if I might find something new. I did. The author firmly believed in homeschooling but said that each of us needs to be sure of our calling. God may even have us teach our kids for a time, and then call us to send them to private or public school.
This was unusual, coming from a committed homeschool mom. But I saw it as an answer to my prayers. In the weeks to come, I began talking to Christian parents I knew who had kids in the middle school in our area. They had no reservations about the education their children were receiving. Neal and I decided to meet with the school's principal and were impressed with her values. We registered the kids for the fall.
I can't begin to describe my relief at finally letting go. For the first time in years, I felt close to the Lord again. I'd been shutting out his voice for so long I couldn't remember how good it felt to follow him. I'd forgotten that even my best intentions can turn sour when they aren't in line with where God is leading me.
The results have been incredible. Amanda and Jason are both doing well in school. Many of their friends are Christians, and they care about seeing their non-Christian friends saved. They have both been able to explore their own interests and talents without me hovering over them. Amanda has found her niche in art, and Jason in music. We discovered that we are a family that needs some time apart. Now we enjoy each other so much more.
Each morning as I say good-bye to my college freshman and high school senior, I am so glad I trusted God and let them go. He has a plan for their lives, and I am allowed the joy of watching it unfold. I like that so much better than trying to direct it myself.
Dawn Pitsch lives in Washington state with her family.
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