Am I a homeschool burnout?

Now that we’ve officially wrapped up this year’s schooling, complete with evaluation, portfolio, and the turning in of paperwork, I can admit something as I look toward our final year of homeschooling: I’m more than done.

Am I tired of homeschooling? Maybe. This year has been one of the “struggle” years, as we dealt with our daughter’s depression and anxiety, lack of motivation due to the aforementioned issues, and the scramble to catch up and finish well despite it all. There have been other struggle years, and I’m pretty sure that’s not unique to our household.

Am I sorry we chose this route? No way. When I look back at the worst times of our homeschool years, I know without a doubt that they would have been much, much worse if we’d had the kids in traditional government school.

Homeschooling three children to graduation (the youngest will graduate in 2018) has been one of the most rewarding choices my husband and I ever made. It’s also not been the easiest of choices and is not for the lazy, but I would never say I regret it. Our household has been richer for it, as far as the relationships we have with each other. Our “kids” (seventeen, twenty-one, and twenty-three) have diverse tastes, ever-expanding interests, and great friends. Best of all, they know who they are because they’ve not been forced to change themselves based on what their school peers have deemed popular or not.

If I’m tired of anything, it’s the paperwork. Even though Pennsylvania finally changed part of their homeschool law so I only have to turn in my evaluator’s okay at the end of the school year, it’s still the state with the second-most stringent set of homeschool laws in the US. I still have to put together a portfolio for the evaluator to look through so we can prove we’ve done the work required by law. And I still have to write up yearly objectives that I may or may not follow, depending on how the school year progresses—even though there’s no way for the school district to check up on me to see if I followed those objectives, or to make me list where I may have deviated from the plan.

It’s needless paperwork for every homeschooler, and it bugs me. I realized as I worked on next year’s objectives for our daughter that these would be the last set of objectives I would have to write, and I almost poured myself a glass of wine to celebrate.

The real celebration, though, will be next year at this time, when I reflect on a total of twenty years of homeschool life.

Victory, satisfaction, and a wee bit of relief.



Mother’s Day reflections

Once again, Mother’s Day has rolled around as it has every year, and once again I find myself mentally reviewing parenthood in general.

Anyone who is a parent knows there are times—sometimes more often than not—when parenting seems like a losing battle. Nobody really prepares you for what parenting does to you, whether mentally, physically, or even spiritually.

The thrill of having a baby is often overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion of all that a baby requires. Babies, by their nature of being . . . well, babies . . . are takers. Any giving they do is completely involuntary. They can’t help it; they are completely helpless, dependent on their parents to keep them alive and content. The involuntary giving is cuteness, snugglability, and the awesome realization of parents that we were given the privilege of taking care of this tiny little person who is somehow so amazing that all tiredness and self-sacrifice is worth it.

Mind you, we don’t always feel that way in the midst of yet another toddler tantrum or sleepless night, but when saner heads prevail, we get it. It’s worth it.

My kids are no longer what I can classify as “kids” in the strictest sense. Our oldest is 23, next in line is 21, and the “baby” is very close to turning 17. They’ve turned into people in their own right, with their own friends (some of whom—gasp!—I don’t know personally), jobs, and interests that may or may not reflect mine. Even so, I still worry about them and still want to take care of them as best I can, even though they really don’t need it in the same way.

The babies who used to wake us up multiple times a night were replaced by toddlers who would wander into our room in the middle of the night, unaware that they were more often than not interrupting the first intimate moment we’d found the time and energy to enjoy in days. The toddlers were replaced by teens who would stay up later than we could manage to hold out, and then young adults who would change plans and suddenly arrive home on a day we’d planned to have the house to ourselves. And still . . . worth it. Worth every instance of interrupted intimacy, every middle-of-the-night phone call that starts with, “I’m okay, so let’s just get that out of the way first,” every “I need you to come and get me because . . .”

Even as the mama of young adults, my time is still not my own, because if they have a need, I still want to be there. If there’s time to just hang out and talk or grab a meal together, I want to be available and it can’t happen as easily as it used to. It makes my heart happy when they actually seek out time with me. But being a mama at this stage has also given me a heart for younger moms and their struggles.

Secondary to raising our own children, one of the best things we can do as mamas is to be there for other moms. I am blessed to be friends with some of the adult children of my own friends, and I think it helps to have a listening ear and an encouraging word or two when they’re feeling overwhelmed. My mother was not someone I could confide in, and was not what anyone would call a listener. Uh . . . and not sympathetic or understanding, either, for that matter. So I completely understand that there are times when it’s easier to talk to a mom other than your own. They can listen and not judge, and it’s not up to them to solve your problem or to take responsibility for it.

My daughter (our youngest) has a couple “extra” moms she trusts when times are rough. We’re extremely fortunate that she is open with us (even when we don’t want to hear what she needs to tell us), but even so, I think it helps her to know there are other adults she can run things by if she’s trying to figure out how to tell us what she needs to talk about, or if I’m not immediately available, or even just to get a differing viewpoint on a problem she’s trying to work out. Far from being jealous, I’m thankful. God has been gracious to put wise people in her path, and I’m not foolish enough to turn down the help.

In the same vein, I have extra “kids” who call me mom, ranging from teens to young adults, and I’m happy to give them solid hugs and a bit of my scant wisdom when it presents itself. In the way that others are there for my children, I want to offer the same. Yesterday, in fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning filled with delicious coffee, laughter, and deep conversation with a beautiful gal who calls me her “work momma.” She wanted to take me out for Mother’s Day at our local chocolatier (mmm, truffles), and it provided a three-hour block of time for us each to be “filled” during an otherwise-draining season of life. She’s a young adult who sees me as my own person, which allows me to be open and vulnerable, yet who also trusts me to treat her with the love of a friend and “extra” mom. She has a terrific mom of her own, and yet there is still a need for that extra set of ears during tough times. I’m privileged to be part of her life.

My mom was sort of a tough taskmaster when it came to Mother’s Day. She had to have the gift, the card, and the phone call—any one of those three missing, and the day was a bust. Over the years, I came to realize that I just needed to do my best and live with it, even though I knew she told her friends and neighbors how neglectful I was. My worst Mother’s Day was the first one after our son had died, and I didn’t want to really interact with the outside world. I was content to spend the day with my husband and children, and yet I knew my mother would be upset if I didn’t call. When I finally did call, I was scolded for not calling early enough in the day. She’d been stewing all day long, not even considering the grief I was dealing with after losing a child only four months before.

I vowed then and there that I would never be like that with my own children. Yes, we all make promises to ourselves to not be like our parents, and I’m sure there are inevitabilities of a familiar mannerism or two, but of this one I’m certain. My children will never be made to feel that a gift will make or break my love for them. Thankfully, in that way, my kids are sort of like me: we love to give or receive thoughtful gifts and appreciate them, but we don’t always feel comfortable having to come up with something simply because the calendar says we should. I think that helps, that we think alike on that point. No pressure, kids. No pressure.

I’m proud of the adults they’re growing into, and yet there’s a whole host of new things to pray about as I trust God to guide them through life. Children are a huge tax on a person’s spiritual walk! They give us so much to pray about, and so much to be accountable for. I love my children with such a fierce, possessive love that I can’t imagine how God can love them more, even though I know He does.

And that kind of love for my kids helps me to understand how God can love us no matter what. The love is unending, even while wanting to punch them in the nose for a callous observation that cuts deeply, or for an offhand remark that makes me cry silently in another room so they don’t see how hurtful they can be. I will wager that there is no child on earth who knows how often his or her parents are brought to tears . . . either for them, or because of them. I would imagine God has wanted to punch me in the nose once or twice. I’m extra thankful he’s more patient than I could ever be, even on my best day.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

Happy Mother’s Day, mamas out there. You’re doing better than you think you are.


Thoughts on the homeschool gig

I was reading a blog post today (Brenda Kaye Rufener’s Homeschool Diaries) that listed some of the dumber things people say to homeschoolers. Many of the questions & comments she mentioned are things I’ve experienced over the years. Some of them make me laugh, some leave me dumbstruck, and some of them make me want to bring out the Fist of Death, much like Alice in the Dilbert comics strip. 

Most times, I know those who comment are simply ignorant of what we do, and they might even be speaking from genuine concern, so I try to be polite. After sixteen years of homeschooling (not the same child, thank goodness!), though we don’t get as many questioning looks about being “out with kids during school hours” anymore, there are still those who just don’t get it.

In the early years, we came up against a lot of resistance, even from family. My in-laws, usually super-supportive with any of their children’s endeavors, expressed their concerns early on, telling us how “children need to be around other kids” and saying they “needed to be out there in the real world.” After taking our boys, then six and eight years old, to a baseball game, their surprised pleasure was obvious when they realized our sons “weren’t strange and scared in a crowd or anything.” Their surprise was certainly second to my own surprise that they’d even considered worrying about it. After that event, though, they began getting the kids school supplies during the “back to school” sales, and we knew they were on board.

For some reason, homeschoolers attract that same breed of person who will rub the tummy of a pregnant stranger, not ever considering all the reasons why that is simply not an OK thing to do. Strangers in the grocery store (who would never approach me if I were shopping alone) seemed to have no awkward feelings about asking my children why they weren’t “in school” that day. When the child being questioned would say, “We homeschool, and we’re done already today,” the stranger would then proceed to give me unasked-for, uninformed, undesired advice. Did I ask for it? No. Did I want to stand there and listen to it? No. Did I value the person’s opinion? Not a whit. Did I grin and bear it? Sadly, yes. I hate being rude to strangers, even if they’re being rude to me. (My children will tell you I’m much better at being rude to people I know and love.)

When she was younger, our daughter had a T-shirt which had, “YES. I’m homeschooled. YES. I socialize. YES. I had class today,” written in bold letters across the front. It elicited many smiles and comments whenever she wore it. A cashier at a store once asked me, “But what about friends?” After I pondered what in the world that was supposed to mean, I asked her if she had friends. She said yes. I asked her if all her friends were from her grade school or high school (she was in her 30s, I’m guessing). She said no, as I’d anticipated. And yet she was puzzled when I asked why she thought my children couldn’t make friends outside the boundaries of a school building.

All of our children have been involved in various activities, from the standard swim lessons to riflery and archery clubs, youth groups and praise & worship bands. One of my favorite non-homeschoolers-don’t-get-it moments came when our oldest, Noah, was at the weekly archery shoot. One of the guys found out he was homeschooled and said, “Really? But you’re so normal!” and then proceeded to ask, “So do you have any friends?” Noah looked around at the gang of friends he was with (many of them homeschooled) and slowly said, “Uh…yeah…” But the guy couldn’t leave it at that; he persisted, “But do you DO anything?” at which point Noah exasperatedly said, “Well, I’m HERE, aren’t I?” We still laugh about that.

People make a big deal about the so-called “socialization” question [insert ominous music here]; in truth, I got in a lot of trouble in school for my brand of socializing—which is different from socialization, but that’s for another post. Or not. I was a good kid, mind you, but I liked to talk. Talking is part of being social and all, you know. Some might say…OK, well, all might say I still like to talk. Hey, it’s what I’m good at. And half of me is Italian, so add all the hand motions and I get a good cardio workout when I talk. But my point is that I don’t recall traditional school being a place where socializing was encouraged.

Strangers worry far more than I do about whether my children learn “what they need to” at [fill in the blank] age. They wonder how my children learned how to stand in line, something I suppose I never realized was part of a well-rounded curriculum. They wonder if I know what’s best for my children, and I wonder why they’d assume someone other than my husband or me would know what each child needs. They worry that my children might cheat on their tests, and I feel bad for all the kids whose teachers don’t make them fix their incorrect answers. Isn’t that the idea of learning?

For all those concerned: my children (who are old enough now at 13, 18, and 20 that “children” isn’t quite the right word for them anymore) are just fine. They have friends, homeschooled, private-schooled, cyber-schooled and public-schooled. Christian and non-Christian. Black, white, Asian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and more. Friends who live in the US and friends who live on the mission field overseas. Musician friends and artist friends. Friends who are athletic and friends whose thumbs are in great shape from playing video games. Fat friends, skinny friends, friends who climb on rocks…you get the idea.

I actually like my kiddos. They can be some of the wittiest people on Earth when they’re in the mood. They make me laugh more than most people do. Our mealtime conversations are the stuff tell-all books are made of. They irritate me—most people do, sooner or later—and I irritate them. But overall, we enjoy each other. I firmly believe the time we’ve spent together because of homeschooling has benefited us in many ways that have nothing to do with academics. We get to spend time together when we’re fresh, not just at the end of the workday when everyone’s spent and cranky and hungry. They get to see that I’m a real person with a life real interests. They realize I can be fun sometimes. It’s not enough to make them ditch a fun event with friends in order to stay home with dear ol’ mama, but I have heard my boys tell their friends on occasion that they were just going to stay home because their dad had a day off from work and we were all just going to spend a day together.

Thankfully, we’ve never really had to deal with the huge teen-angst blowups people talk about. Not that our kids don’t get upset sometimes, or lose their tempers, but it’s rare. And when they do, they typically apologize later. No one has ever screamed, “I hate you!” in this house—not at me or my husband, anyway—and for that, I’m truly thankful. Angry words can be hurtful enough without throwing that into the mix. They might have been angry enough to say it, but it never came out verbally, and that’s important.

I thought about this today as our daughter (the youngest) came to me and said she wanted to take a bike ride, “so I don’t lose my temper and blow up at someone.” For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what would have prompted her to be angry enough to blow up at anyone, considering that she’d slept until almost noon, sat around reading for school, and was fairly inactive until we asked her to start a load of laundry an hour after waking (one of her standard chores which should need no reminding). I wanted to say no, because we were only fifteen minutes from sitting down to our main meal of the day (luppertime, don’t ya know). But she looked upset and my hubby, typically the voice of reason, gave her the OK. When I asked her if it was anything I could help with, she said, “No, just teen girl stress stuff.” Then she grinned and added, “You wouldn’t know, of course, since you’ve never been a teen girl before.” She didn’t storm out or stomp and slam the door. She simply left, knowing we weren’t going to push, and when she came back an hour later, she had a genuine smile and all was well in her teen world.

Maybe I’m stretching the connection, but I can’t help but think the scenario would have been much different if she were a peer-dependent girl in a traditional school who thought her parents’ opinion was far less valid than that of her friends. So to answer the stranger who worried that it would a go badly because “parents shouldn’t be around their kids that much,” I would say it’s worked out just fine for this family.