One of the recurring themes in our homeschooling experience goes something like this, “I’m just overwhelmed… why are we doing this anyway?” Sound familiar? Do you feel like you “can’t see the forest for the trees?” Often times homeschool parents, particularly moms, feel as though they’ve lost their way dealing with the urgent, but losing sight of the important.
The journey of homeschooling is a difficult one, but with a clear vision of why we are doing it we can be encouraged to persevere through the trials. The purpose of this article is to provoke your thoughts about how you can define or refine your vision and keep it at the forefront of your mind.
Why are we doing this again?
I once heard a preacher say that preaching is not so much telling people things they don’t know, but rather reminding them of things they do know. If you have spent any time homeschooling, the chances are pretty good that at one point, you had a clear understanding of why you chose this path. But then one day in the midst of raising children, teaching children, feeding children, loving children, disciplining children, picking up after children and all the other stuff we’re doing with and for and to our children we stopped and said, “why, again?” And then we picked up the phone to call our husband at work…
So what’s a frazzled homeschooler to do? Let’s start by stepping back and thinking big. Not just about the week ahead, or the month, or even this year. But where are we, how did we get here and where are we going? So grab a cup of coffee, and a notebook and pencil, and let’s talk about how to keep one eye on the horizon while the other is on the 3 year old who’s just discovered the spice cabinet.
How do we think big (and what does that look like)?
We’ve chosen to homeschool for a reason. At some point there was an awareness of a problem for which homeschooling seemed like the right solution… and what exactly was that again?
Well, one thing is certain and that is that the circumstances that led me to homeschool were different from yours. Maybe we have some similarities in beliefs, convictions and experiences, but homeschooling is a very individual decision. Think about it. What confluence of circumstances, experiences and influences first caused you to think home education was a possibility? Think specifically.
Take care not to define your problem by the symptoms. Symptoms are functions of behavior or circumstances. Problems are conditions of the heart. Maybe your homeschool journey began as a reaction to behaviors, but behind the behaviors are heart issues that you felt could be best addressed at home. Maybe they were struggling with comprehension or falling under unhealthy influences. Perhaps your intentions are to guard their hearts or equip them to stand on certain convictions. Perhaps you simply wanted a superior education than other alternatives were capable of providing. In whatever case, there was an underlying problem. Write it down.
Can you tell me why you homeschool… in 30 seconds?
Now why would I do that? It’s complicated… My reasons are unique to my family… No one would really understand…
If you’ve read this far, it’s because you sometimes get off track. Are your reasons so complex that sometimes you can’t remember them, particularly when the children won’t listen, everyone’s demanding your attention and last night’s dishes are still sitting on the table next to breakfast?
Being able to distill your homeschool vision down to a couple sentences is like having a lighthouse in the fog. It’s a statement that you can remember that serves to orient you and then enables you to re-construct all of the secondary reasons for why you do what you do.
I’m not suggesting that you can capture all of the reasons for why you homeschool in a couple sentences. However I am suggesting that if you really put some thought into it, you can capture the essence of why you homeschool. That essence will be an anchor for you when the proverbial storms come and will be a place from which you can look back on how you got here and look forward to where you’re going. This exercise has 2 great benefits. First, it forces you to get to the heart of the matter and identify what’s really the most important reason to you. Second, when properly done, you can remember it.
I once knew a family that had a very well written, and long, family vision statement. I love the idea, and I would certainly encourage you to come up with one if you are so inclined. But be careful. A beautifully written family vision statement can become like a corporate mission statement; wallpaper. I have found that, as life happens, sometimes the simplest expressions work the best. Make sure your family vision stays relevant to your homeschool goals by applying this simple test: Is your vision written so others will be impressed or so that your children will be inspired?
Getting down to business
Successful businesses have a “business model” that works. Basically, the business model is what the company does and how it makes money. What is the “business model” for your family? In other words, you have a vision, but how exactly are you going to accomplish it? And how are you going to define and measure your success? Let me ask this way… how are you going to organize your life to be consistent with your vision?
Said another way, your family model is what defines the things that you say “yes” to. That is the activities in which you engage, the things into which you invest your time and money, that with which you fill your hearts and minds. Feel like you’re getting pulled in a million different directions? Don’t seem to have control over your commitments and the demands on your time? Feel like the inmates are running the prison?
If you haven’t thought about your yes’s, then how will you know when to say “no?” Start that process by asking yourselves what will it take to make your vision a reality in your home. Don’t be afraid of the answers. You may not be able to instantly make all the changes happen, but you will begin to see a path forming. And that is the direction you know you must go.
Snowflakes and Fingerprints
Your family is like a snowflake or a fingerprint. There’s no other family exactly like yours, and you shouldn’t try to be exactly like someone else’s. Now, what are the unique things about your family? Write those down too.
If homeschooling is anything, it’s individual. It’s like being an entrepreneur and starting a company in your garage with big ideas and a lot of heart. We start this journey with a measure of hope and faith. Remember Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Field of Dreams, who hears Morgan Freeman say, “If you build it they will come?” Well, home education can sound crazy too, but we have a hope that home education will do something special in the lives of our children. And that “something special” is as unique as your own family is.
Sure there are some basics to home education that may apply across the board for families. After all, you want your children to read, right? You want them to learn math, right? But the manner in which we go about it, the way in which we teach our children to think, the lessons that we impart in the school room, the living room, the yard, or wherever school happens are uniquely yours. What is special about your family? Recognize your uniqueness as a gift and play to those strengths.
Even those of you who have come out of the most dysfunctional of circumstances have a gift… a set of experiences and perspectives that are uniquely yours. It doesn’t really matter if your experiences are driving you to break generational habits or to replicate the best of what you’ve been taught for your children, your path is uniquely yours. By all means listen to others and learn from them, but don’t try to be someone else’s family.
Let’s say you have the eureka moment. Your vision for home education is crystal clear. You and your spouse are on the same page and all is right in the world. You’re ready to face a brave new world.
You will discover, if you don’t already know it, that there are forces at work in nature that will directly affect your efforts. One of those forces, which we would do well to remember, is the concept of Entropy. Simply stated, this concept tells us that nature tends to move from a state of order to a state of disorder. Look around. We know this is true. A glass of ice sitting out will melt. Metal left outside will rust. Things get old and decay.
Unless there are counter-active forces applied, things will tend toward chaos. And homeschool is no exception. Unless we keep our eye on the goal and make an intentional effort to keep our vision in mind, we will experience entropy. It’s like being in a river, but your destination is upstream. You can swim upstream and make progress. You can even be creative and make a canoe. You can get really sophisticated and make a sailboat or even a motor boat. But if you do nothing, you will still move. Just not in the direction you want to go.
So take your vision and write it down. Keep it handy. Get it out and read it. Say it to your children. Discuss what it means. This, by the way, will help you determine very quickly if it’s the right one or not. Can your vision be the backdrop behind all your activities and efforts throughout the day? If not, ask yourself, “is your vision more of an action plan to deal with a particular issue?” That’s ok, we need action plans, but if you find that’s the case, beginning the discussion of what is the vision for your family will be a helpful step to taking control of the chaos.
And When The Challenges Come…
Ever had this thought? “Everyone else has it together… I can’t seem to get anything done. I don’t know how [insert name of local homeschool celebrity] does it…” Yes, I know you have.
Newsflash! At some point you will want to give up & let someone else deal with it. Sure, you may be the one that was going to take charge of your child’s education. I mean, after all, no one understands your children the way you do. No one will give them the individualized attention that they really need. No one will… And then one day you just want to scream, “Fine! I’ll just drop you off at school and then see if you can pull this nonsense on your teacher there!” It will happen.
We mustn’t be ignorant of the challenges we will face and those challenges will be both external and internal. There will be difficult days and there will be doubts in your mind. The question is not, “Will difficulties come,” but, “what’s you plan for dealing with them?” So, what’s your first line of defense? Everybody has one. Do you get angry and throw things? Do you run into your room and cry? Do you become harsh and critical? Do you eat ice cream? Do you alienate your spouse and children? Are you passive aggressive?
Understanding the mechanics of your stresses and reactions, which is best done when you’re not right in the middle of it, is your opportunity to create a new defensive strategy and (and ideally wise) reaction. Identify your hot buttons (you probably know them already) and create an action plan how you’re going to defuse them. Talk it through with your spouse. Write down how you want to respond.
It is true that knowledge is power. Know yourself and you will find the power to alter the course of things. Apply that knowledge and you will see transformation.
We Are On The Same Team… Aren’t We?
Homeschooling is a team sport. Each member of the team has different strengths. If everyone on the team only knew how to play one position, do you think the team would win many games? Your family is a team and everyone plays a different position. And like any team sometimes we have to substitute for each other. Have you ever thought about that? What are the roles? Do you have a game plan? Do you take time to huddle up and call the plays before game starts? How about some post-game analysis to see how things are going? When circumstances change, do you make adjustments to your offense or defense?
That begs the most important question you can ask… “Are we on the same team?” If you’re struggling to answer that question in the affirmative, then perhaps it’s time to revisit the vision. Homeschooling will not be all that it can be if mom and dad are not on the same team. It is possible to both be “committed to homeschooling” yet not be committed to the same vision for your family. If that’s the case, are your priorities backwards?
Be careful of the tendency to be like the armchair quarterback who spends too much time analyzing what another position is doing wrong? Is there an attitude that one role is somehow better than another or is there a sincere appreciation for each player’s role? How can we communicate that appreciation with sincerity and grace?
Homeschooling is both “in the now” and “in the future.” Often that looks something like this. Mom is in the now. She’s living in the moment. She’s at ground zero. The runny noses, the math problems, the wandering toddler, the science project taking over the kitchen, the phone ringing, literary analysis, the grocery store, the library, lesson planning… Dad is at work. He’s in the future. His eye is on the horizon. Conquering new ground, building character, focusing on results, forging a new path, preparing for college, equipping for vocation. Mom and dad bring different strengths and perspectives to the table. These can be the greatest asset that the team has.
In the game of home education, one person can’t do it all. We need to understand the strengths of one another and back each other up. We need to stay in communication and make adjustments as necessary. Even all-stars have a bad game from time to time. We get off. The rhythm isn’t there. We pull a muscle or get head trash. Sometimes we need to focus on our strategy, sometimes we need some time on the bench, sometimes we just need is a pep talk.
Moms, here’s a piece of advice to you. Just because things are tough right now, doesn’t mean they always will be. Dads, here’s a piece of advice to you. Seek first to understand, then be understood.
A Final Word
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. It is a good and healthy thing to ask, “why are we doing this again?” This requires us to think and re-think through our reasons. And here’s a piece of important advice. Make sure circumstances are your friend before you do it. Has your challenging child just melted down and everyone’s nerves are frayed? Then it’s probably not the best time to start re-evaluating your homeschool decision. Wait until you can think clearly and discuss things rationally. Stay away from the blame game, particularly when hashing through tough circumstances and unmet expectations.
If we don’t have a starting point, that anchor that we talked about above, we begin to drift around with no direction. There’s nothing quite like time and age to make previously important things irrelevant. Your homeschooling journey may have begun as a response to a specific situation, but if that situation has changed then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.
If you are overwhelmed with your homeschooling, remember that you are not alone! No, it’s not some deficiency in you or some lack of ability that’s hovering over you. It is simply the reality of pursuing a calling that is hard and filled with challenges. If homeschooling were easy, it wouldn’t produce strong and mature character. And it wouldn’t be that great for your children either!