A Good Enough Mother

I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden – Lynn Anderson

Tell me about your mother – attributed to Sigmund Freud

“You know,” the kind, older mother said to me, “there is the idea of the ‘good enough mother.'”

Several years ago, I had been confiding to this woman by describing the growing guilt and panic that seemed to be settling into my bones and soul as my kids grew older. I was tortured by the mental list of things I had to get just right as their mother in order to ensure they grew up happy and whole. I wasn’t supposed to have problems, since problems took time and energy away from my kids. The pressure was crushing me.

In my mind, what motherhood required was a superhuman level of focus, dedication, and sacrifice. And as I struggled with my own demons while feeding, disciplining, and teaching little people day in and day out, I felt I had none of these qualities, and I was desperately afraid of anyone finding out.

How could I possibly forgive myself if I wasn’t the best mother? The idea of a good enough mother sounded almost lazy.

Our society has a cherished prototype of the perfect mother, and despite decades of growth in feminist thought and massive cultural change, the idea remains largely the same:

A good mother is a mother first and a human being second.

Whether she works or stays home, uses public education, homeschools (or pushes herself to the brink pandemic schooling), and whether she is married or divorced, she is bound to exist in a sort of agonizing miasma of guilt and second guessing of nearly every choice she makes for her kids and for herself.

Her self was absorbed long ago into a role. Every move she makes, or so she has been taught to believe, affects the life and future happiness of her children.

A mother who must reclaim and tend to herself for a period of time to heal from illness, to grapple with relationship problems, or to work towards a goal almost always does so with a nagging sense that she is abadoning or failing her children somehow.

Society celebrates the guilty mother and her nail biting worries. We moms even have a unique brand of guilt, our “mom guilt. “Worrying shows you care” and “The fact you feel guilty about being a good mother means you already are one” preaches the internet and its flowery mom memes.

Perfection as a mother is preferred, but the world will accept good old self-flagellation if we can’t quite measure up.

I remember when I first had the epiphany that my own mother had suffered through years of loss and struggle while trying to be the best mother she could be.

I realized my mom had been a human being all along, not just my mom. I wonder how it would have changed our past relationship if I had not been taught to put her on a pedestal, a pedestal that denied her the right to make mistakes and to change…to be fully human.

I see my own children in pain and frustration sometimes as they too realize that their mom is merely human, that she cannot put the world to rights for them. I see the look on their faces as they begin to understand that the coziness of their early years is being replaced by the agonies of growing up and the complexity of modern life.

There is nothing more excruciating to a mother than to see her kids hurting, and it is a special kind of hell to worry that your choices, mistakes, and limitations may have contributed to that hurt. But when I wake up too early sometimes and lie still with the question that chokes me, “What kind of mother would…?” and all its acccompanying guilt, I have to remind myself that I want my kids to live in truth and light and to develop strength and resilience. They need my love, not my efforts to always make life easy for them.

I hope that as I continue to raise my kids the chains of guilt and second guessing can be loosened and that I can embrace the idea of being a “good enough mother,” a mother who is honest in who she is as a person and who sets an example of love and peserverence, not shame and perfectionism. I will never teach my daughters that, if they choose to become mothers, they suddenly cease to be people with issues, challenges, and dreams.

I want to say to them, “Your mom will always be there and love you, but maybe not always in the ways you’d prefer. Her love will sometimes be a clumsy thing, but she is always trying.”

Maybe, just maybe, that will be good enough.

Crisis Parenting And Then Some


In the story of Rip Van Winkle, a colonial era man falls alseep on a moutain, only to awaken twenty years later to a world he barely recognizes. Many of us may feel something like Van Winkle’s character today, except we have witnessed profound change in the world as we know it in the span of weeks and months, not years.

The world is on fire with the flames of a dangerous virus, endemic racism, and economic uncertainty. For some of us, our personal lives may also be in upheavel. We cannot know what the world will look like when the flames finally die down, only that it will certainly be different from what was before.

Parents feel the reverberations of these changes keenly: tension, hostility, and a lack of empathy seem to seethe from our culture, especially online, creating toxic spaces for families who instead long for support and guidance in the hard work of childrearing. Many working parents now find themselves as stay-at-home but often still working parents, and many have been thrust into the role of “crisis homeschoolers.” The support networks for parents, whether seasoned homeschoolers or new, have collapsed, and both parents and children feel the stress and pressure of new routines and limited options.

And while figuring out how to teach math and keep the kids entertained are certainly important issues for most parents, there is also a far deeper concern. Inside the hearts and minds of many parents, including myself, there is a frightening question beating like a tattoo, again and again…

“How can I possibly protect my children from this strange and scary world?”

I think most of us know the answer, too. At least, the answer came to me as I ran down a beautiful gravel path this morning, on a brief respite from the problems of my own life and the larger world.

The answer is, simply, we can’t.

We cannot shelter away pandemics, racism, or the realities of dwindling bank accounts. We cannot conceal from our children, who are always more perceptive than we think, our own internal crises as we question our priorities in this fragile life and deal with the unrelenting forces of change, always change. We cannot lie to kids and prepare them for a world that doesn’t exist, a world of ease and predictability.

The best we can do, I think, is to be deliberate, loving, and present for our children as we gently and age appropriately talk with them about the world’s troubles and our own struggles within that world. We can answer their questions and give them as much grace as possible when they balk against what they cannot control.

We can be compassionate when they complain about how hot and uncomfortable it is to wear a mask. We can read them stories of great civil rights leaders who cared and made a difference. We can be an example of love and tolerance in a sometimes hateful and angry world. We can remind them that poverty can breed creativity and that people are more important than things.

We can turn off devices and the news and show our kids the baby birds in the nest on the porch, reminding them that there are still good and beautiful things in this world. Our children will learn from us whether to be led by awe and curiosity or to be led by fear and cynicism.

The only thing we can truly predict is that our love for our children will always be there; letting them know this, every single day, may indeed have the power to ease the pain of the slings and arrows of this life.

Love is the only thing that will have the power to help us and our children be strong enough to adapt to whatever strange new world awaits when we, like Rip Van Winkle, descend from the mountain and begin the brave and challening work of starting again.



The Late Bloomers


To everything there is a season.

For children, we might amend that maxim: To everything there is an appropriate age and grade level. When children can read at the end of kindergarten, take off their training wheels by age six, and master their times tables around third grade, we breathe a sigh of relief that all is as it should be. It’s as if our children are little boxes who have been filled with age-appropriate skills on the assembly line of life. They can now move on to the next skill, the next milestone. And so it goes.

It is almost always socially acceptable and even lauded for children to master life skills early. We praise the kids who play the violin at three and polish off their first novel at four. We bestow upon them the coveted label of “gifted.”

Our society holds many beliefs about the benefits of mastering skills early rather than late:

“Teach them early, or they’ll never learn.”

“It’s so much harder to learn a new skill when you’re older.”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

But then we have the late bloomers: The kid who isn’t reading at age eight. The ten-year-old who still insists on using training wheels. The eighth grader who cannot seem to remember the answer to 6 times 7 try as she might.

In a world that worships the hare, these kids are tortoises. They take their time, and sometimes that time seems very, very long to the adults in their lives. We watch and fret, waiting for them to master things we think they should have learned months or even years ago.

These kids make us nervous, especially when we homeschool. Will they ever progress? Did we not push hard enough in the beginning? What if something is wrong?

When my younger daughter did not read by the end of kindergarten, I began to fret, even though I knew that many, many kids are simply not ready to read until much later. My older daughter had been a precocious reader, and I’d expected her sister to follow suit. Our life was filled with books and reading, and we were using a good phonics program. What was I doing wrong?

What I was doing wrong was not honoring my daughter’s unique developmental path. After a talk with my husband and some introspection, I resolved to try and relax and take the pressure off both of us. I continued with gentle reading instruction, but we stopped whenever she or I began to get frustrated. By age seven, she was reading with confidence. Around this time, after a couple of years of concerns over possible dyslexia, a friend’s child was beginning to read short chapter books at age nine.

Parents should always trust their instincts as to whether a child might have a legitimate learning issue, and I do not mean to imply that delays never constitute cause for concern. However, late blooming learners are often perfectly capable kids who just need a bit more time.

In the case of my own family, I could trace my youngest daughter’s hesitation to jump into reading to my own late reading as a child and her perfectionist, mastery-oriented personality. She wanted to do something all the way or none of the way. Reading a beginner book was not appealing to her, since she knew the vocabulary and ideas were limited, and she longed for complex stories like what we read out loud every day. At ages five and six, however, she simply wasn’t ready to decode the words that would lead her through those beautiful stories. At seven, she was ready.

While my oldest daughter flew through long novels at a young age, she took longer to master basic math facts and skills like riding a bike. At ten, she dedicated two afternoons in the backyard to figuring out her bike minus the training wheels. And then, she had it! About a week later, her younger sister took off her own training wheels with a wrench and quickly learned the skill, too. Both girls happily spent the summer riding their bikes around our neighborhood.

When discussing bike riding with the girls’ pediatrician, the doctor said with a smile that she had learned to ride a bike at age twenty-eight at the insistence of her new husband. This reminded me of my own determination to learn to knit in my mid-twenties, and my resolve to get better at gardening in my thirties.

Rather than feeling rushed and pressured, I want my kids to honor their own readiness and sense of motivation for learning and trying new things. Rather than buying into notions of old dogs and new tricks, I’d love for my kids to be inspired by folks who decide to get a college degree at fifty, paint their first picture at sixty, and finally take a trip around the world at seventy.

Late bloomers may test our faith and patience, but they can also remind us of God’s unique plan for each person. Just as children talk and walk at varying ages, they also read, write, and master various concepts at differing times. Comparing, shaming, and pushing our children to rush ahead will only discourage their love of learning and potentially damage their self-esteem.

In the process of honoring each child’s unique learning journey, we can perhaps learn to trust a little more and worry a little less.


The Wisdom of Summer


It’s been a tough homeschool year. Plans were derailed, spirits slumped, and school became a slog through the three R’s on more days than I care to remember.

I began homeschooling my kids with a sense of excitement and purpose and with a unique vision of how our family would approach education. We’d go on nature walks, do projects, read scores of books and have a grand time learning together.

That vision certainly did not include my children telling me on a regular basis that they “hate school” or asking, yet again, “Do we have to do school today?” Nor did it include my own feelings of burnout that would surface on many mornings as I looked over our task list for the day.

There were some fights and some tears. Okay, there were a lot. I suspect that my children might have even wondered a few times if the big yellow bus might be able to carry them away from a tired, dispirited mother nagging about the multiplication tables or handwriting practice for the tenth time in an hour.

When we reached our required number of school days for the year, we all felt a deep sense of relief, perhaps too deep. I ended our school year with a nagging question in my heart:

Why are we homeschooling if we are so happy to get to stop homeschooling for a couple of months? 

After we baked brownies and basked in the freedom of our first school-free day, I noticed my kids reading on the sofa. Then, they asked me to help them find out how many bones are in the human body (answer: 206). Then, as I was catching up on long neglected housework, I overheard my kids discussing which continent they would each draw.

Here we are, dipping our toes into summer and the learning has not stopped. The workbooks are put away, but the questions are not. The desire to experiment and to find out is stronger than ever.

This summer, I’m opening myself up to rethinking all of it for next school year…the schedules, the rigid expectations, the pressure to hold on to some resemblance of public school just so I can reassure my inner fear monster that we’re checking all the boxes.

Will I decide we’ll never use a formal curriculum in our homeschool again? I’m sure I won’t. Will I stop requiring my kids to work on the tough stuff, like those pesky multiplication tables? No way.

But I just might figure out a way to better hold on to this sense of peace and joy in learning so that by the end of next school year we’re not all so desperate for a break.

Just as traditional resources like books and curriculum can help open up the world to our kids, so can uninterrupted stretches of freedom, peace, and rest. In summer, without pressure or hurrying, our kids can have time to ask the big questions, learn what they love to do, and discover who they are and who they aren’t. 

We’ve all heard the old advice that an ideal career is one that we would engage in even if we didn’t get paid. Perhaps we can apply the same logic to education: the ideal learning is that which you don’t have to force upon your kids. 

Watch your kids this summer. Are they still writing stories even though they don’t have to for school? Are they looking up planets and constellations? Are they studying animal behavior? Are they building their own computer?

Such endeavors may be passing hobbies or turn into lifelong passions. Either way, I believe our kids deserve the space and support to try things out and to just be. 

They need summer, and so do we.

I don’t have the balance for next year all figured out. I’m not sure how to let my kids be themselves and learn what they love while still gently pushing them to work on the things that aren’t their favorites. 

But I’ve got some time to work on it.

I’ve got summer.

Summer has a lot to teach, and I’m ready to learn. How about you?

Let’s Think Carefully About Screens

iphone-410311_1280 (1)Like most of us, I owe a lot to computers.

I write these words on a handy, lightweight laptop and will soon watch them set sail on the internet, an admittedly vast and choppy sea, but a nonetheless efficient and economical means of travel for my humble writing. My daughter takes free typing lessons on this same internet, and my junior herpetologist and I can easily find answers to her queries about the world’s biggest snake or oldest tortoise with a couple of clicks. My cracked and by now probably “ancient” smartphone can store precious family photos and help me to navigate any new city by car or foot. 

It’s all pretty amazing, and by now most of us take our world of exploding technological advances for granted. The ubiquitous screens with their clicks and swipes are just a part of modern life. The speed only increases, and the advancements just keep advancing. As a society, we do not hold on; we lunge forward. 

There is, however, an undeniable undercurrent of anxiety that accompanies all this progress, particularly regarding portable devices like smartphones and tablets. Parents and the news media fret over kids’ screen time and possible internet addiction. Social media is a culprit in everything from cyber bullying to youth suicide. 

The concerns are, of course, extremely valid. The health effects of too much screen time for children and adults, particularly sleep loss and physical inactivity, are no small matters. Bullying and mental health issues regarding children’s social media usage point to disturbing trends. 

But maybe as a society we need to ask even bigger questions about our relationships with screens. Not just what are screens doing to our brains and sleep patterns but what are screens doing to our spirits, our relationships, and our culture? What are some of the “problems” solved by our screens (boredom, a lack of constant information influx, the requirement to be in the same room with someone in order to socially connect) that might actually have benefits? 

Why is it now considered normal for a child to be thrust into a digital world of carefully curated images and judgement via social media before they can even cook their own breakfast? 

Why are so many adults more concerned with presenting a life their Facebook friends “like” rather than truly living a life of integrity and peace? Speaking of adults, why are we not modeling a bit more self restraint for our children when it comes to purchasing all these bright and shiny tech toys for ourselves? The cultural consensus seems to be that if it’s a new tech item, then it’s automatically a must have. 

Why are schools and businesses so quick to embrace new technologies to enhance learning and productivity when some of these technologies have yet to be proven to enhance anything more than distraction? The research says that taking notes by hand is actually better for learning, but many school boards insist that every kid having a laptop is the key to academic success. 

With the gains of screens and their conveniences we and our children risk losing precious experiences. We risk losing our sense of awe at nature’s wonders as our minds become accustomed to digital showmanship and the brain candy served up by social media. We risk losing our patience for reading books cover to cover. We risk losing out on connections through dinner conversations, family walks and games, and time to sit with our own thoughts.

I am disturbed by society’s collective throwing up of hands, as if to say, “This is just the way it is. There’s nothing we can do.” The culture of screens has real implications for all of us, especially our children. It’s not good enough to just give in and go along.  

Of course there are things we can do. Maybe we can just start by asking if the tech way is always the best way. Many homeschoolers may be on the front lines of preserving a more “analog” way of life by resisting excessive screen usage in their homes. Homeschoolers have the luxury of picking and choosing which screen activities are actually beneficial, and their children don’t need to be tethered to a laptop all day to learn. Pursuits like cursive handwriting, drawing, and poetry and nature study are popular in homeschool circles because they teach our children patience, perseverance, and attention to detail. 

Restrictions and limits on screen usage will vary by family, and everyone is different. We have a hierarchy of learning resources in our home: first books, then experiences, then screens. This works for us and seems to preserve a healthy balance in welcoming the benefits of screens while avoiding too much of a good thing. I joke that I’m a bit of a Luddite, but I wouldn’t want to give up our Netflix subscription and all the wonderful nature and history documentaries it includes. 

We have a pretty strict schedule for allowing our kids to play around with technology, with supervision. My kids do not have their own phones, tablets, or TVs. My husband practices a screen-free period for part of every weekend, and I work to carefully monitor my own usage and model good habits to my kids. 

We’re not perfect by any means (hello, cat videos), but we’re trying to navigate this strange new world of technology while not losing what matters along the way, just like many other families.

We talk about technology and culture with our kids, and we let our kids know that while computers are an essential part of modern life, the world is full of beautiful things not made of ones and zeroes. 

What I believe is important is continuing to ask questions as a society about the benefits and harms of a world gone digital. To pause for a just a moment before making that touch, that swipe, and to ask if maybe, just maybe, there might be something better to do.


I’m Not That Mom


Despite Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to the contrary, I still have a bad habit of comparing myself to others. With age and the small gains in wisdom it brings I manage to do it less and less, but it still happens.

As I supervised my children and a few of their friends at a recent church activity, I overheard a mom talking excitedly about her pregnancy. She smiled and brought me into the conversation, letting me offer her my congratulations. I then went back to helping the kids locate beads, hole punches, and the ever elusive scissors. 

She continued to talk about the excitement surrounding this pregnancy (her third) and how she and her husband had a large number of business trips planned over the next month. Not only is this woman a great mom, but she’s also a successful and sought after scientist who travels the world. She cares for an ailing family member. She is heavily involved in church life. She is always smiling.

She does a lot in this life, and I admire her. She is that mom.

In short, she is absolutely nothing like me.

She has a million plates in the air and they all seem to be spinning flawlessly. She admits that her life gets crazy, but as I said, she’s always smiling. 

I, on the other hand, have about two to three plates in the air on any given day, and half the time I’m dropping at least one of them and cursing or needing to go hide in the bathroom for three minutes so I can get myself together.

My biggest plate is the parenting/homeschooling one. And, for me, it’s big. We should really call it a platter. It’s heavy and slippery and sometimes awkward. It takes up a lot of my emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. Some days, it takes up all of my energy. It’s joyful work. Emphasis on work.

We all know that homeschooling is hard and that it can be demanding. A good homeschooling day that ends with happy children and a love of learning is a thing to be celebrated, and yet so often I hear a deeply self-critical voice asking, “What else are you doing?” 

Do you know this voice? 

“So and so has a successful business and still manages to homeschool. Why can’t you make any money?”

“So and so has far more children and responsibilities than you, and yet she is always pulled together and still plans exciting date nights with her husband. Wasn’t your last date before your kids were born?”

And, my personal favorite:

“Spaghetti for dinner, again? Haven’t you heard of the homeschool mom who writes the famous cookbooks and has her own television show?” 

That voice.

It is the voice of our cultural obsession to do more, be more, have more, and show more. The voice urging us to keep up and not miss out. 

That voice can tear us down in our spirits. Saddest of all, that voice can lead to genuine self hatred and self alienation. In trying to be like other people, you might just forget who you were in the first place. 

But the best way to talk back to that voice is to start accepting yourself just as you are. If you are a sparrow, be a sparrow. If you are a finch, be a finch. Stop apologizing for how God made you. That voice hates it when you stop apologizing.

I am not that mom. I am not an impressive entrepreneur, a world traveler, or a CEO. I’m not a great multitasker, and I don’t have an endless supply of energy. God bless that mom. Good for her for being her.

I am just myself. I’m a dedicated and loving but flawed mother and homeschooler. I’m a wife. I volunteer as I’m able to one cause that is close to my heart. Just one. I make time for a couple of meaningful hobbies, one of which is writing. I think deeply about things, especially how I raise and educate my children. I’m an introvert.

Homeschooling is a lot, and maybe, just maybe, I’m doing enough for my unique family and circumstances at this chapter of our lives. The last time I checked, my children and husband did not want that mom to hug them and listen to them. They just wanted me.

Maybe I’m enough. 

And maybe you’re enough, too. 



Homeschooling Spirited Children


It was our first official day of homeschooling. I excitedly held up the homemade curriculum I had worked on the night before. “We’re going to play a little alphabet game,” I said in my best mock Kindergarten teacher voice.

My then five-year-old instantly frowned. “I’m not doing that,” she said flatly. We proceeded to argue for the next fifteen minutes, finally settling on an assignment that she found palatable. After we had put the books away for the morning, it hit me that homeschooling was going to be a lot harder than I could have imagined.

My children are passionate, smart, loving, and frighteningly perceptive and observant. They are kind and honest. They have wonderful vocabularies and imaginations. They are funny. One child is often boisterous and talkative, while the other child is more reserved and fairly quiet. One child leans toward extroversion, while the other tends to be more introverted. They are a joy to their grandparents, their great aunt, and of course, their parents.

They are also a challenge to homeschool. 

You see, my husband and I are the proud parents of not one, but two spirited children. 

For a thorough definition of this personality type, visit author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s parenting site.

In a word, spirited kids are intense. They love a subject or they hate it. They have strong opinions on everything from what you’re serving for dinner to the weather outside. They don’t hold back in expressing their feelings. Ever. They have often have iron wills and resist any coercion or bribery. They are also often extremely sensitive to your every word and gesture. Correcting their school work is a minefield; someone or something might blow up.

After one particularly bad morning of yelling and tears, I considered putting a sign on our door that says, “Please don’t call the cops. We are just doing math.”

If your child has ever thrown their pencil across the room after making one mistake on their work or if you secretly wonder whether you should go ahead and send your child to law school since they are so good at arguing, negotiating, and never backing down from their case, then you might have a spirited kid, too.

My husband and I often remind each other that apples don’t fall far and that we are both spirited people ourselves. I am highly sensitive and introverted with plenty of my own quirks, and my husband is the life of the party with his vivacious humor. Four strong personalities in one small house make for an interesting and sometimes exhausting mix.

There have been many, many days that I haven’t felt good enough, brave enough, strong enough, or just plain enough to do this homeschooling thing. On those days I try to listen to the little voice in my heart that says, “Do it anyway.”

I don’t have it all figured out, but things have gotten a little smoother over the years. We still have bad days, but I’ve learned what (usually) works in our school environment and what doesn’t. I’ve also struggled and stumbled towards more patience and understanding of my beautiful, feisty children. 

Here are a few tips that help our family to homeschool our spirited brood:

Stop comparing yourself or your family to others.

I don’t have Suzy Q’s laid back, compliant kids that do math without being asked or who put themselves to bed at 7 p.m. I probably never will. Our normal is reminding our kids that, yes, we have to do some math practice today. Again. Our normal is working with kids who never, ever appear tired and who can’t fall asleep easily. 

I am raising and homeschooling my own quirky, wonderful, strong kids and not someone else’s kids. 

Be as strong and persistent as your kid.

Math needs to happen in some fashion, even if your kids don’t like it. Chores need to be taken care of, even when we don’t feel like it. Don’t let your child’s intensity in resisting make you back down from something that is important. Let them have lots of choices and pick your battles (or ideally avoid them altogether) but be clear that some things are simply not theirs to decide. Think leadership instead of control.

Try a timer for hated subjects.

My oldest child thrives using a timer for math, her least favorite subject. She loves seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (“Only five minutes to go!”). The timer also helps me to make sure I don’t go over her threshold with a lesson. Be cautious here, though. My youngest child dislikes the pressure of having a strict time constraint and gets stressed out by the beeping timer.

Be creative in structuring their days.

Variety is essential when homeschooling spirited children. While I’m not bragging (okay, I am), these children tend to be very bright and creative. Pulling out the same bland workbooks day in and day out won’t cut it. You will have a revolt on your hands! I try to alternate days of heavier book work with days of more hands-on activities and play. I’m also becoming a big fan of educational games like Professor Noggins cards and various board games. 

Decide on an acceptable minimum for practicing the three R’s, then be sure that your kids are getting plenty of play, outdoor time, and appropriate stimulation. When attitudes are bad and motivation is lagging, I like to pull out the ol’ zoo /museum/nature park cure. 

Celebrate your unique children!

My husband and I celebrate the fact that we have spirited kids. We don’t worry about our kids following the crowd or being unable to think for themselves. In fact, once our kids make up their minds, not much can deter them! What a wonderful trait to have!

Our children force us to set a good example for them since they will never miss the hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do.” Our children’s strength of character, sensitivity, and passion teach us new ways to see the world.

Never apologize for your children’s intensity or think it reflects flaws in your parenting. Your child’s God-given personality is a gift to be nurtured and cultivated. Spirited kids may often be the opposite of “easy” in parenting and homeschooling, but they are worth every moment of effort and dedication that you can give them. 




Conquering Homeschooling Worries


If worrying was a sport, I’d have a black belt by now. Over the years, I’ve worried circles around my pregnancies, parenting choices, and the ingredients in our breakfast cereal. As a homeschooler, I must make daily choices about how to structure my children’s education outside the framework of institutional schooling. Such choices provide plenty of fuel for my worry prone mind to burn. 

We homeschoolers think we have such good reasons to worry. After all, we’re educating our children…at home! We might as well be performing open heart surgery or manning a spacecraft! 

In all seriousness, of course, we are taking on a big responsibility. Homeschooling requires a great deal of faith, and it can take time to develop this faith in our children’s God-given ability to learn and in our own strength to meet the challenges that often arise in homeschooling. 

Over the years I’ve learned that worry is, actually, a choice, and it doesn’t have to be our constant companion in homeschooling.  Just as we can choose our curriculum and our homeschooling style, we can also choose peace over fear. 

Here are three common homeschooling worries and some thoughts on how to let them go.

Worry #1: We Aren’t Doing Enough

Homeschool parents everywhere can probably identify with this vague, nail biting anxiety that hovers over us as we go through the school day with our children. We craft lovely, organized lesson plans and schedules, only to realize that we might accomplish barely half of what we planned on a really, really good day.

We look at the clock and imagine that the public school kids down the street have been working diligently at their desks for hours while our family has only managed to eat breakfast, enjoy a read aloud, and work out a few math problems.

We seem to forget about all the hours we ourselves spent in class as kids when we passed notes, doodled in our notebooks, or simply daydreamed as we prayed for the bell to ring. The institutionalized schooling mindset does not die easily, even after we’ve rejected much of its ideology. 

One of best antidotes to the “we’re not doing enough” worry is to clearly define your educational goals for your children. Do you want to raise independent thinkers? Passionate readers? Does a spirit of exploration rule in your household? Once you know what you want for your kids’ education, you should ask yourself whether you are doing the right things to support those goals rather than enough things or simply forcing your kids to log in a certain number of hours each day doing busywork. 

Recently, I had felt like we weren’t putting in enough time each week towards our science studies. Then, we got to the insect unit of our science curriculum and began to study butterflies. We purchased a mail-order kit of caterpillars and watched metamorphosis unfold. My kids were fascinated and excited as we savored this project over three weeks. Releasing our butterflies was one of my favorite homeschool moments so far, and I know my kids will remember it for many years to come. Since I want to encourage a love of nature within my children, this project was far more valuable than trudging through science worksheets that held little meaning for my kids. 

Try to follow a formula of “passion, progress, and perseverance.” Spend lots of time on kids’ passions with books, classes, experiences, and so on. Aim for progress in the basics (math, reading, grammar) by doing a little bit every day. Persevere in areas that are more difficult for your child by implementing regular, short practice sessions that end before you and your child become frustrated. This method maintains a sense of discipline and hard work in the homeschool environment without forcing hours and hours of busywork on kids.

And just keep going. You’ll be doing enough.

Worry #2: Socialization

I imagine that every homeschooler on the planet has fielded concerns from family or friends over the issue of socialization. Our culture espouses the belief that children learn social skills best from other children, preferably other children of the same age. How else will children know what music to listen to, what internet videos to watch, and how to be liked by the crowd either in real life or on social media? 

Yet do these skills really constitute socialization? Socialization involves many subtleties and values that are usually best conveyed by responsible, loving adults who have more life experience than children. Call me crazy, but I would much rather my children learn how to carry on polite conversations or how to be respectful towards people of all ages, colors, and creeds from their parents and extended family than from schoolmates.

To me, true socialization is a gradual process of learning how to live peacefully and respectfully with and around other people in our increasingly diverse world; narrowly focused, cliquish interactions with same-age peers will not be likely to give kids an advantage at getting along socially in the wider world.

Kids definitely do need some time to play or just be social with children from outside their own household, but the vast majority of homeschoolers provide such opportunities for their children through church, co-ops, or simple playground visits. If you’re making an effort to get your kids around other children somewhat regularly and your kids seem happy, then they’re most likely doing just fine.

And let’s not forget that a strong sense of identity and security within a family unit is a huge factor in a child’s self esteem and overall well being. Kids who spend lots of time with parents and extended family will hopefully grow up knowing how special and loved they are. Perhaps these positive experiences can, to some degree, make our children more resistant to the peer pressure, stress, and mental health crises that seem to plague so many young people today.

For an interesting perspective on the topic of children and peers, I recommend reading Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D and Gabor Maté, M.D. 

And finally, let the critics in your life carry on a conversation with your (usually) articulate and polite homeschooled child. That will likely put everyone’s worries to rest.

Worry #3: The Future

Worries about the future are universal, especially for parents. A quick internet search can provide thousands of articles pouring over the parenting conundrums and fears we face today: Should we free-range parent to help our kids build confidence, or is hover parenting more appropriate in our supposedly violent and socially fractured times? Are our kids getting enough STEM education, and will it even matter since robots will take everyone’s jobs anyway? Will it be possible to get through even the most modestly priced college without a mountain of debt accumulating for children and/or their parents?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, and I do have concerns for my children’s futures in a troubled and rapidly changing world. However, I have to lean on faith here and put most of my energy into the present. We know that life has never been easy, and our children will face challenges no matter how much we try to protect them and prepare them for adulthood.

Homeschooling can’t insulate our children from all the harsh realities of the world, but it might just give our kids the advantage of having spent their formative years in a low-stress environment where family connections, lifelong learning, and moral development are core values. 

Like many of the homeschooling families I know, my family makes financial and material sacrifices to homeschool. In doing so, we don’t model a material form of success for our kids. Rather, we’re trying to live out our values  and principles and doing the best we can with limited means. We aren’t keeping up with the Joneses, but rather forging our own path. Even at their young ages, my kids understand that our small home and modest vehicles give us the freedom to live and learn the way we want. They understand that more stuff doesn’t always equal more happiness. They don’t see education as a fast track to an economic rat race in which the winner receives the nicest, newest stuff.

Home education lets our kids know that it’s okay to question the status quo and choose an alternate route for education and life. While the future is not mine to see, I can only imagine that the ability to think for oneself and to live modestly will be helpful skills in any economy.

Most importantly, in the battle against worry we have to commit to focusing on gratitude for today. I am grateful that homeschooling is legal and better understood than in years past. I am grateful that I can cuddle with my children every morning for our read aloud. I’m grateful that, like most homeschoolers, we’re stubborn and we don’t give up. So pour a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and let confidence and peace guide you in your homeschooling journey.



The Courage to Homeschool

One of my favorite quotes comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: In Self Reliance he states, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” I can remember the inspiration I gleaned from those words as a young college student. As an offbeat, formerly homeschooled person who preferred spending time with her husband and cats to keg parties, I found a lot of comfort in them.

In twenty-first century language, I might restate Emerson’s gist as “Whoever wants to become a full person and live an authentic life must possess the courage to be different.”  In no other area of my life does this hold more true than in homeschooling. And yet, it is in this very area that I find summoning the courage to be different and also confident so very difficult. 

Homeschooling is radically different from the way the majority of the world lives and pursues educating children. It requires that the homeschooling parent spend a great deal of time alone with her children, parenting, teaching, and constantly making important decisions with minimal or no input from other adults. For these reasons, homeschooling can easily become lonely and stressful.

Sure, I can look to homeschooling friends and blogs for support and inspiration, but we homeschoolers are a mixed bag of free spirits with wildly varying styles, philosophies, and schedules. We’re like scattered islands that all belong to the same country but may have stark differences in culture. We all stand under the “flag” of homeschooling, but that might be where our similarities end. Largely, we’re on our own, trying to figure it out as we go.

When things go well in our homeschool, I’m just fine. “Look how great this homeschooling thing is going!” I say to myself. But the minute we struggle or someone criticizes the way we educate, I get a little philosophically wobbly. “What if the system could do this better? What if I’m not doing enough? All the other homeschoolers are doing it this way, but we’re the only people I know who do x,y,z.”

The public school system’s flaws and failings are no secret, but saying what I don’t like about traditional, institutional education doesn’t take a lot of courage. We all know that finding fault is easy, but finding solutions is damn hard work. We homeschoolers can’t just reject public schools; we have to create a viable alternative that can nourish our children’s minds and hearts in the absence of institutional structure. Moving toward a new vision of education and life is what takes real courage.

Many days I’m just shaking in my boots over this whole homeschooling thing. However, when I come out on the other side of those fears and peel away each insecurity, each nagging worry, I see that conviction is still there. Certainty, no. Conviction, definitely.

My heart and soul want to do this. This is the path that entices, that frightens, that challenges me to question every thing I thought I knew about learning and life. This is the gift I want to give my children–the gift of something unique and uncharted. I want them to view learning as a lifelong process, not as a grade or a standardized test score.

I want them to grow up and think for themselves about what is worthwhile and true in a world fraught with consumerism, competition, and egotism. I want them to have the time and space to learn who they really are before peers and the media can tell them what they should pretend to be. Maybe they will be so accustomed to being themselves that it won’t be so difficult for them to resist laying down their beautifully unique selves at the false alter of “fitting in.”

My children will see me mess up plenty in the coming years as their mother and teacher, but I hope they will also see me trying to bless them with a life outside of the walls of institutional learning and prepackaged lifestyles. I hope they will see me trying to be brave enough to be a nonconformist.


Welcoming the Fall Semester

forest-868715_1920It’s only late July, but the back to school buzz is in the air. The stores are stocking pencils and backpacks, and the local schools are reminding everyone that school begins next week. Even an independent, slightly rebellious homeschooler like myself has to face the facts: summer won’t last forever.

It’s time to get to work.

Work can pull you out of bed in the morning and give you a purpose, or it can make you groan and want to hide under the covers. This summer, my kids and I got a lot of experience with the former. We did meaningful work with shelter animals, we worked on reading and times tables in a relaxed and fun way, and we read books that made us laugh.

I worked on, quite simply, trying to become a better parent. A parent who plays a little more and worries a little less. A parent who means what she says when she says it. I even worked on resting and being okay with wide open days. I worked on simply shrugging when my kids said they were “bored.” “It’s good to be bored,” I often replied.

And it was.  My kids dressed up as their favorite book and movie characters and played around with stage makeup. My oldest daughter made homemade lip balm and worked up the courage to sell it at church. We started a flower garden, and the kids made fairy houses. They practiced the work of childhood.

And, quite magically, much of the work that used to induce groans and complaints got a little easier, and I marveled at how (finally!) household chores and routines were no longer family landmines. We have a ways to go, but we’re all getting a little better at doing what we need to do without making a fuss about it, at least most of the time — Mom included!

So, the challenge for this school year is continuing to enjoy meaningful work while disciplining ourselves to make the best of work that isn’t necessarily our favorite. As Charlotte Mason explained, this is all a matter of habit. Mom gets up early and has the house and her person in order because it’s her habit. We do our math work without complaining because it’s our habit. We exercise our bodies outside because it’s our habit.

And when those doubting voices creep in about why on earth we’ve chosen this crazy, hippie idea of teaching our own kids, when we’re exhausted and demoralized and lonely, when we’re humbled by a learning challenge or the collapse of well-laid plans, we simply keep going. We get up, change what isn’t working, and move on in our homeschooling.

The habit of moving forward is the most important work of all.

A happy fall semester to everyone!