Last night, I reached over my new, dog-eared book, clicked out the light and turned over in my bed, making a promise to myself. That if I ever write anything about homeschooling in the future, any kind of advice for newcomers, that I’ll never, ever be one of those people who say, “relax, you can do this” and leave it at that. I needed help when we first started. Until I got it, in fact, in the words of a few great reads buried within a sea of largely unrelatable ones about what it should be like to homeschool, I was sinking in little defeat after little, unrelenting defeat. Sonya Haskins said it best in her book, Homeschooling for the Rest of Us, when she voiced: “Parenting is a lot of work. Homeschooling is parenting to the extreme.”
Homeschooling has drastically changed the way that I parent my children. (Not just educate.) It’s had to. For a spell, while homeschooling solved a plethora of issues we had hoped that it would, it also sent a whole new slew of problems spiraling out of control, like a blender turned on with the lid still off. I tried my best to keep up with damage control, but my best always seemed to fall short of what our family needed. Asking for help was an impossibility. I’d taken this venture on myself, at the sacrifice of our family’s peace. I knew that essentially, I’d have to handle it that way. And there were times that I didn’t even know where to begin. There was just so much to fix.
Homeschooling puts the issues your child has already been facing right at your doorstep, all up in your face and sometimes, breathing down your neck with no relief. Homeschooling doesn’t just add complications to family life. It leaves no room for doubt about issues you used to have the luxury of not realizing were there. You no longer have to peek through a small window every once in a blue moon, hoping to catch a fair glimpse of the big picture. You aren’t missing anything all of a sudden – which is as much a curse sometimes as it is a blessing. All of it is there: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the copiously unfair. Yours, entirely, to do something with.
A few months in, my approach is changing. I’m holding Mary more accountable lately, and to a higher standard. The complaints have gone up, but so has the quality of work she’s turning in, and the frequency that she smiles. To balance it out, I’ve let up on a lot of things too. She gets up when she’s ready to now instead of strictly at 8:00, but she isn’t finished for the day until all of her work is turned in. These are luxuries we didn’t have the first week of school. It’s an indication of two major victories. 1.) Mary takes the responsibility as seriously now as she needs to, to do well. 2.) We’ve graduated in the ranks; we’re no longer the fumbling newbies we used to be.
One of the silver linings to being homeschooled for Mary was supposed to be that she could sleep in a little. When she found out a few days before school actually began in August that I needed her in the schoolroom by 9:00 for at least a few weeks, the news was not well received. But I needed to know then that she’d take this venture seriously, so until she could show me that she would, rules were put in place to ensure that work got done. Today, she doesn’t need so much of that structure – which means that homeschooling gets to look a lot more like homeschooling is supposed to: organic, footloose and flexible.
If I had one major goal that I could pick from the thousands I’ve taken on in this endeavor, it would be to get her self-motivated. A close second would be to teach her what it means to receive and show respect. Anyone can follow an order if they’re forced to — I want her to excel because it’s in her best interest, and she knows it. Mary’s quick to point out whenever she’s given the chance here, that she doesn’t genuinely care about any of this crap. She doesn’t realize that that’s fine in this stage. Being self-motivated, to me, doesn’t mean jumping for joy at the opportunity to work hard. Sometimes it just means getting it done now so that you aren’t stuck doing it later.
It’s illustrated to me time and time again that the more effort I exert into caring, the less she will. It’s directly correlated, like two ends of a pulley. This is also exactly what’s laid out in widely renowned books about parenting, like Parenting With Love and Logic. I’ve known for a long time that as long as you do all of the caring for your children, they never have to. But I’ve never been forced to implement the idea, whether I was ready for it or not. Homeschooling put my ass in that seat. If I didn’t learn to stay disciplined in my ability to leave it all up to her, the work wouldn’t even get done. Point blank. As long as I wanted so intensely for her to care, she knew that I wouldn’t, in a million years let her fail. And you know what? She was right.
That isn’t the case anymore, and it’s probably the biggest shift in parenting philosophy I’ve ever put into practice.
Yesterday, for example, I sat down with her and looked forward to reading from our History text together, while she worked on a related assignment. But before I could start, her attitude was flagrantly drab, so much that her desire to overthrow the whole lesson plan was beyond the ability to ignore. Against my better judgement, I asked for her cooperation. I admitted that I wanted this to be fun, if only she could give it the opportunity. I warned her. But she took the opening as an invitation, instead, to make another dig, more aggressively. I got pissed, and I did the only thing I could do – the thing I was frustrated with myself for not doing in the first place, when I knew that I should have.
I walked away.
When I walk away, Mary knows that she has to read through the lesson herself. Homeschool is designed to involve the instructor as much or as little as the child needs for them to be. It’s geared to creating self-motivated learners. That means that everything she needs to learn the lesson is in a book at her disposal. I create extra games, stories, videos, demonstrations and activities to make it more personal than that, but if it’s necessary, she actually needs very little involvement from me outside of help and clarification. That gives me the freedom to walk away if I’m not being treated with the respect I deserve.
Respecting teachers has been a problem for her in the past, and it hasn’t disappeared in a puff of smoke just because her teacher now is me.
After walking out and getting a few stress-relieving chores out of the way (while admittedly muttering some garbage about “ungrateful, little…” under my breath) she worked. In ten minutes flat, she was done. Then, she moved onto the next assignment, rocked it out, asked a few quick questions for clarification, and then apologized in a way that was heartfelt and unforced. I noticed that while I worked on preschool activities with Matthew (because she was handling the 7th grade workload on her own), she followed, sitting next to us wherever we went. For the rest of the day, we unbegrudgingly worked side-by-side, separately, but more “on the same page” than on some of our best, more structured days that have come before.
I reminded her to stay on task a few times, but for the most part – if she wanted a break, I gave it to her. Because she woke up late, and asked to take a few hours to clean her room instead of do assignments, this meant that we were still working on a civics assignment while watching the presidential debate at 6:00. She despises politics like nothing else in the universe. But for over an hour, she was sharp, involved, and full of initiative until the assignment was done.
If that doesn’t illustrate respect and self-motivation to the umpteenth degree, then I don’t know what does.