The reputation of homeschooling has progressed to the point that in addition to the occasional vitriol, I frequently get compliments for homeschooling my kids. The compliments often come from other moms who say, “I could never do that.”
There are many reasons they say they couldn’t do it, but maybe the most frequent one is, “I’d kill my kids.”
What they mean, of course, is that they would not get along well enough with their kids to be able to get through it. The conflict and distress would be too much; parent and child would be at each other all the time.
I understand and respect this feeling. Truly, each parent knows her own situation best, and I’m not in the business of telling people who should homeschool, or that everyone is better off homeschooling.
I will say, though, that having to work through the conflicts as a homeschooling parent has been an opportunity for me, a benefit to homeschooling I never anticipated. In the heat of the moment, it has not always been a welcome benefit, but looking back, I realize that over more than a decade of homeschooling, we’ve had to try hard to solve interpersonal problems because the time and space of attending school wasn’t going to provide any relief from anything left unaddressed — and the problems were going to be fully present to us every minute of the day.
Having time and space apart, of course, can also be vital to problem solving, so this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. And lest I sound holier-than-thou, yeah, some problems don’t get resolved fully or ideally.
If homeschooling made that happen, everybody would be homeschooling.
But — homeschooling provides us with ample time and ample opportunity to deal and deal and deal again with our situation. I have learned much about myself because of this. It is sort of like learning a foreign language through immersion. Somehow, you have to learn how to navigate in this stew of other people’s emotions and needs and reactions, and they have to learn to navigate in yours.
Of course, that’s good for kids. That’s bound to be one of the reasons why homeschooling works. Emotional needs are up front. In my many conversations with parents, I’ve found that their kids tend to be emotionally honest with them in the intimate relationship of homeschooling. Now, this emotional honesty can be, uh, “that’s-not-what-I-bargained-for” to a parent who thought homeschooling was mostly about math, reading, science, and social studies.
However, the ability to console or guide a child who is angry, anxious, frustrated, or sad — right when he or she needs it — is a remarkable opportunity that is simply woven in to our homeschooling days. We can explain or model how to “take a break” when a situation becomes too intense. We can model using “I feel” statements so kids learn assertive communication. We can show compassion in emotionally intense situations. And we can help kids learn to problem solve rationally so they can better manage similar situations in the future — even if it takes lots of daily practice.
Of course, this provides opportunity to learn the primary skills of stress management and self-management of emotions, but it does have an academic effect. Anyone, kids included, who knows fears and frustrations will be addressed, will be able to focus better on learning the things that are traditionally considered academic subjects.
The really amazing thing is how good this can be for parents. I’ve had to stretch my own understanding of interpersonal relationships in order to try to be the guide and example my kids needed. Inevitably, I have had some stellar failures — but then I get to model how to really say “I’m sorry,” make amends, and make a commitment to do better, to do differently.
Sometimes, I’ve needed to do reading and research to learn new skills or to get better perspective on the dynamics in our household. Other times, I’ve needed to talk things out with someone who has both more expertise and more distance on a particular interpersonal challenge.
As I helped my children learn how to deal with their strengths and weaknesses, how to make the best of their personalities and their situations, I’ve been faced with the fact that my own temperament has its drawbacks, and that I play a part in any conflict. This humbling fact keeps coming up — which helps me remember that parental instructions for kids to “mend their ways” aren’t so easily followed — since I have to work every day on my own issues. I can hope that cultivating this self-awareness is something that my kids see me doing, and that they’ll want to do some self-reflection as well.
So, yeah, sometimes there have been some tough homeschooling days. But getting through them together has provided some of our most important learning experiences.