I actually like this week as the last of my Facebook friends list sends their kids back to school. Here in the Midwest, that happened last week and the week before. But back on the East Coast, that happens this week. Above is my “back to school pics”. A friend pointed out the quintessential homeschool part: bare feet.
It’s not that I love the back to school pics. I mean, I enjoy seeing their kids and all–but I see them in pics all the time. It’s interesting to see what they’re wearing, but it’s not the “milestone picture” for me that it is for them. What I enjoy is knowing that NOW all of the “I can’t wait to ship them off” posts are close to an end. At least until winter break.
Thankfully, I have more than one friend on my Facebook list that actually mourns the back-to-school departure of their children. I love them. I love them for standing up and saying “I love my kids and I will miss them all day” against a cultural tide of parents singing about it being the most wonderful time of the year and cartoons of blissful parents literally dragging unwilling kids to school. Oh my God… WHAT have we become?
People will say “We’re only joking” but it’s not a joke. Truth lies in jest. These parents are as bored as their children. They are worn out of the daily struggles and arguments that often take place between parents and children. They are relieved to minimize those interactions. They are especially relieved to know that someone else will impart the knowledge those kids need to get those kids out of their parents houses… quickly and efficiently with at least an average level of self-supporting success.
Some people will even say “My kids are as thrilled to be away from me as I am of them–they want to go back to school!” Really? And what kind of statement is that making about your relationship with your children? Or about how they feel knowing that you’re all that happy to shoo them off? Why WOULD they want to stay with you knowing you feel that way?
Long ago and far away, I was the parent with a child that I NEEDED to go to school because truly–the idea of dealing with him all day was a prospect I just could not handle. I was in survival mode every minute that I was in his presence. I was miserable and I was struggling. I never felt like I knew how to make it right–no matter how many books or blog entries I read. This photo pretty much sums up my days with my son… and this is the lightest of it (which is why I COULD capture it on film):
It was a daily exercise in knowing how badly I was failing at parenting and having that very in my face. I hated everything about life back then. I woke up with dread about what the day would bring. I worried about what might get broken, how much yelling might occur, if there might be physical interactions, if my son would tantrum for 45 minutes straight at some point, hoping that if he did–it would be in our house, how many looks I would get from people around us who would instantly judge me as a bad parent… the list goes on.
His going to preschool filled so many voids for me. I felt like sending him there might have been the only thing I was doing right for his future because they would at least be able to educate him to be a productive human being. I also felt like sending him there made me a better mother because I got a break from feeling so completely worthless that it kept me alive. During that time, I could do other things that validated my worth–even if that was just a matter of cleaning the dishes and doing some laundry. Low-hanging fruits that were signs that I was capable of doing SOMEthing right.
It didn’t change the problems. It just gave me a much-needed break from them.
We had gone through two years of intensive therapies with our son. Fourteen hours/week (we were offered 20/week and declined out of sheer exhaustion and overwhelm). Research, interventions (both therapeutic and nutritional), every moment being a “teachable moment”. It was exhausting. It was beyond most parents challenges of finding things for a kid to do because they’re bored. I was engaged with my son at almost all times for a long time… and not in a loving parent way as much as a therapist/practitioner way. He didn’t see me as a parent. He didn’t connect with people really (at that time). And we didn’t grow into a family.
I loved my son, but the situation was just a nightmare. I was doing what I could. Then it all changed.
In a nutshell, we found out that he was being mistreated/mishandled at his preschool in ways we really didn’t know about. We knew he was “having bad days” but we had no idea what the school’s definition of that was. This resulted in mutually agreeing to end a private school contract midway through the school year (for the familiar, you can see how bad it was). We sent him to a school with a different pedagogy for the second half of the year and that went better but not WELL. He was our only child at the time and I loved him so deeply.
When it came time for Kindergarten, the school situation was just NOT a good fit. You find that schools do this with kids in the spectrum: put them several levels below their academic capabilities for the sake of them gaining other “skills” like relational skills or following directions (which would be easier if they don’t ALSO have to figure out how to do what they’re being instructed to learn). It was horrible. And I felt it was a recipe for behavioral disaster beyond what we were already dealing with. Ultimately, a teacher I respected told us that we should just keep him home for his Kindergarten year.
I wanted to cry.
But I did it.
You hear over and over from homeschool parents about the profound behavior and relationship changes that come with homeschooling. It sounds too good to be true–so good that you insist (at least in your head) that they could not possibly be dealing with the issues you’re dealing with. But many of them are dealing with worse.
And you don’t have to homeschool to change this relationship. But you DO have to take an active interest in engaging with your kids. That doesn’t mean being in the same room with them. Lots of parents say that they’re “with their kids all the time”. Sorry, being in the same room as them does not equate to being ENGAGED with them. I don’t mean to say you should be their buddy. But it does mean taking an interest in them from THEIR perspective. It means setting aside your agenda for them and really HEARING them without recourse about what you’re hearing. It means spending one-on-one time with each of your kids–even if it’s just a dedicated 15 minutes each week (preferably each day) that they can bank on having with you to talk about whatever THEY want to talk about and you being actively interested in hearing them 100%. It means hearing about Minecraft and at least pretending to follow along sometimes. It means trying really hard not to say “No” unless you really have to. It means finding opportunities for them to pursue their interests (and not being angry at your wasted efforts if they don’t want to do it). It means respecting their input on what things they want to take on, and what things they feel they need to quit. It means giving them a hug when they’re crying before lacing into the reprimand. It means a lot of putting aside how we culturally handle our kids and seeing our kids and their tender hearts first. It means understanding that they generally only operate out of love or fear–and trying to get to the heart of which it is, and addressing THAT rather than how that came out/manifested.
It doesn’t matter how you school your kids. But your relationship with them or their behavior shouldn’t be the reason you don’t homeschool. And sending them outside of the home to school doesn’t equate to offloading the work or getting these behavior or relational issues resolved. They’re not in your face as much and it’s easy to let the goal of correction slip off your radar. But make it a goal.
Life changes when you homeschool. All of your life. It’s different from the mainstream in many ways; but in many ways that you grow to be thankful for. Especially where it concerns the bond between you and your child.