Monday, October 17, 2005

Isn’t Homeschooling Your Children Hard?

This is the most frequent question I get asked lately: Isn’t homeschooling hard? I also hear this in a statement format, “Wow, that must be hard.”

I still don’t have a comeback for this. I can’t think of one. It seems obvious that if I were just to tell the truth, then how could it be that this statement leaves me either speechless or tongue-tied and stumbling to make up an answer on the fly? The reason I can’t answer this is because I had never and still have not thought out the question, so I don’t have an answer.

Back in 1999 I began writing customer book reviews on Amazon, for fun and to participate in the process which I appreciated. As an Amazon customer I’d appreciate the customer reviews to help guide me to good books and to steer me away from books that didn’t seem like a good fit for our family. I felt that writing the Amazon reviews was a way of giving back to the community. I don’t get paid to do it. I write a lot less reviews now than I used to.

Anyway my point in starting on this tangent is that in 1999 when I had to write a reviewer profile I wrote that I was a stay at home mother and that it was the hardest job I’d ever done in my life, and it was also the most rewarding. At the time my oldest son was two and I had not yet conceived my second child. A few years later I read the profile again (after ignoring it since the time I wrote it). I was surprised to see that I had written that. (I can’t remember if I edited it out or not.) I remembered feeling that back in 1999 I was still on the defensive about being a mother at home. I was feeling the pressure back then that American society didn’t value mothers at home, and that women’s careers were still being place on a higher plane of importance than staying at home to raise children ever would be, and I was sad about that. I wanted the world to realize that I used to have an important professional career but now I was happy and actually was challenged to do a good job at raising my child at home. I also wanted them to know it wasn’t a cakewalk; that being a good parent is not a simple or easy task; it takes hard work and diligence.

So anyway I don’t know if homeschooling a child is hard. At first I thought that it is not hard, because the act of teaching them or learning alongside them or facilitating their own discovery of things, is easy. It is easier than I ever imagined being a school teacher to be. Teaching one’s own child is easier than dealing with someone else’s child. Teaching an enthusiastic learner is a piece of cake. Reading aloud a wonderful book is enjoyable for me as well as for my children. Even teaching concepts that seem difficult, is not that hard on a one to one or one to two teacher: child/student ratio. In that regard it is not hard. For many years this was my mindset: homeschooling is easy, it is fun for parent as well as for the child, and any parent can do it with a good outcome.

However the more I hang around with stay at home mothers who have children in a school, the more I realize my life is harder, or shall I say, less entertaining and relaxing. I am not free to go to the gym whenever I want. I am not free to shop leisurely when I want. I have to do the grocery shopping with kids in tow, which is not always an easy task. My hardest job is not redecorating my house or getting my nails done or having to go to the bus stop in the rain (or to drive them to the bus stop and sit in the warm and dry car, for the bus to come). In this regard, being with my children all day and parenting them all day, and then “doing homeschooling” with them, and also just knowing that I am responsible for what and when they learn things does seem harder. Now I can see why some parents keep telling me that what I do must be hard---because compared to what they do, IT IS HARDER.

I already know that homeschooling my children is harder than working in corporate America. Well, I think that most days. There were many days earlier this year that I actually fantasized about how it would be easier to go back to working and that dealing with office politics would be a piece of cake compared to trying to stop the bickering between two young children. Each job has its own pro’s and con’s. Dealing with a tantrumming child vs. dealing with an incompetent co-worker. What is harder? Office politics, staff meetings, keeping the boss happy, juggling work and home, dealing with commuter rush hour traffic or helping kids memorize math facts?

In the end I don’t know if homeschooling is hard or not. It is all a matter of perspective an opinion. It all depends on our unique family lives. I am lucky to not have a spouse who is breathing down my neck all the time with worries that our kids are not keeping up with the kids in government schools (or private schools). I don’t have extended relatives harassing me either. I think the dynamic of the children and the mother as well as the dynamics between the siblings all contributes to how easy or difficult homeschooling can be. (Parents of only-children, you don’t know how easy you have it! The dynamics between personalities of parent and child and sibling to sibling is something that no one ever told me about, and is something that is rarely talked about in parenting circles.)

The other thing that I have to compare our situation to is if I sent my children to school, what kind of situations would I have to be dealing with, and how easy would that be? I would be dealing with peer dependence, peer pressure, and exposure to rudeness and bullying. I’d have to deal with acceptance that my child was being taught X not Y. I‘d have to accept the fact that a lot of time is spent on test prep for “No Child Left Behind”. I’d have to realize that my children may be not academically challenged enough. If my children went to school they may learn as I did, that learning is work in school and is boring and many times, meaningless. I don’t want them thinking that, because it is not true for real learning and real life, it is true for school learning, though. I’d have to deal with my children being labeled and classified and put on a track. I’d have to resign myself that they would be changed into different people by the very fact that they take the school bus and are forced to be with certain children all day long (not all of whom are children who would be role models).

I can only imagine what I would be like as a parent of a schooled child. (I blogged about this recently.) I would be the questioner, the devil’s advocate, the pusher of reform of policy and procedure. I would be the one who is not afraid to speak directly to the Principal. I would be the one with a black mark against me and my child would be intentionally discriminated against. (I am told this goes on in my town—the parents who complain about things at the school which are substandard or even those who point out that there is a problem and want something done about it, have their children treated differently such as being put in the ‘worst teacher’s’ class.) I have friends who are scared to speak up for fear of retaliation and punishment to their child. I know some of you are thinking, “But this is America, where we have freedom of speech!” Wrong! There are always ramifications for speaking one’s mind, if it rocks the boat and if what is said is not purely praise for the government education system.

As for right now I think homeschooling is much easier than sending my children to school. It was only until I sat and wrote this all out that I was able to figure out the reasons why this is true for me. Sending children to school may be easier for some parents but not for me. I also am not afraid to rise to the challenge of homeschooling my children. As for now this is the right choice for us.

As some of my friends and blog readers like to point out, perhaps there will be a day when I am forced to return to work in order to make money for our family, to survive on. If this is the case then I will need care providers for my children and if that means the babysitter is the government school then so be it. If this day comes I envision that the school’s main role for our family would be for free babysitting. (I say free, even though I know the money we pay for property tax goes toward paying for it, I am still paying it as a parent who doesn’t use the schools; contrary to what many people think there is no rebate given to homeschoolers.) I would not be happy to settle for the curriculum at the school and we would end up ‘after schooling’ them (supplementing their learning at home with more vigorous academics each day).

So for now, no, homeschooling is not difficult for me. It may be more difficult than someone else’s life, or it may be more than a man thinks his own wife can handle. I still contend that it is much easier than most people think it is, if both the mother and father want to homeschool and if the person doing it enjoys it, and if they dedicate the proper amount of time and energy to it. If any part of that equation is not met, then homeschooling would be more difficult and may be unpleasant or unable to be tolerated.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I usually give people a puzzled look and say, "Spending time with my children? No, I don't find that hard."

Which is followed by the awkward silence, and the unspoken question of, "Do you?"