Accepting What Your Homeschool Isn't

I was dreading the beginning of lessons with the boys.  At first I just thought it was because the glitter had worn off my homeschool eyes.  It's not exciting and novel anymore.  Not really at all.  Freshly ordered textbooks arriving in the mail carry with them the weight of knowing we actually have to do something with them.  I half-heartedly sharpened a new box of pencils knowing that within a week they'd be ugly and broken just like the rest of them.  It was also partly plain ol' teething toddler exhaustion, I knew.  I've been tired to the bone enough times by now to remember that the seasons of sleep deprivation will pass and that the way they darkly color my vision of life will be healed with a few good nights of sleep.

The behavior of the boys wasn't helping the situation.  Everyone was on each other's nerves.  Weeks of 90 degree temperatures and no routine were wearing on all of us.  I had tried to keep up a little bit of routine during the first weeks of summer - not much, really, just daily math, piano, reading - but the week of camp threw it off and we never returned.  Instead, we lolled through the days, at times feeling the relief of summer freedom but after a while feeling the lack of vision and purpose for our days.  Rather than see the factors contributing to the extra fights and overall surly behavior, I envisioned all of that going on while trying to navigate lessons.  It was hardly an exciting prospect.

As the summer wound down and the back to school chatter began, the sweet eager-eyed first day pictures began to pop up.  And that long ago forgotten voice of not enough found its way creeping back into my mind.  I could feel that little ugly whisper, once conquered, trying to resurrect itself in my emotions and thoughts.  I was reminded of all the things we're not doing - no uniforms, no study centers, no themed lunch boxes filled with treats and love notes, no cheerful, glistening-eyed, kindergarten matrons excitedly posing with arms draped around my children, no brightly colored construction paper-clad classroom filled with learning gadgets, no chalkboard signs draped around my children's necks to commemorate The Big Beginning, not to mention all the beautiful topics I try to but can't fit.  Just me and them, neither one of us at all impressive at the moment.  Any tiny crumbs of enthusiasm I had been clinging to for the year were quickly falling from my fingers joining the post-lunch wreckage ground into my kitchen floor.

What do you think you're even doing?  Not enough.  That's what you're doing.  Not enough.  

I forced myself to cobble together a schedule for each of the boys, beating myself up again for all the subjects I can never seem to fit.  Poetry!  Composers!  Geography!  Crap, they still don't know the Pledge of Allegiance.  And I felt the guilt in the pit of my stomach for one's sloppy handwriting and another's inability to name the seven sacraments.  I remembered again that we still never really gave our homeschool a unique and clever name.  I read through a conversation on books your children MUST read and realized not only had I never read many, I had never even heard of many.  Half heartedly, I dragged myself into our new year.  At this point in motherhood, at least I know that sometimes you just gotta fake it til you make it until the seasons change again.  I forced myself to drown out the voices and begin the work that He's called me to do.  I forced myself to sit and guide and be present to these little souls He's given me.  I forced myself to continue with the work despite how lonely and unglamorous and completely unexciting it felt compared to everyone else.  And despite a strange number of interruptions that seemed far too coincidentally timed with the struggle in my heart, they began their year.  Much to my surprise, they began it well.  

We've slowly returned to our rhythm and I've checked back in with each of their minds and hearts.  I remembered again that the voice is a lie.  We're not doing so badly after all.  I may not be well read in poetry and great works of literature but I know math and grammar and spelling and theology.  We don't have uniforms or a perfect place to outsource some classes (as much as I sometimes want both) but we do have threadbare shirts that are allowed to get dirty and uninterrupted days with no outside obligations or driving in the snow.  We don't have composers but we do have scientists. We don't have relatives clamoring to help but we do have a knack for organization that keeps things running (somewhat) smoothly.  We don't have vintage schoolhouse desks in a Pottery Barn schoolroom but we do have several acres of the best classroom there is.  

It's so easy when we want so very much for our kids to only see what we aren't doing.  It's so easy to only focus on the things that we don't have.  It's so easy to treat our children like a suitcase to be packed, cramming everything we can into them, so they will be ready for the earthly journey still unknown that they will be called to make.  We so often forget that God placed these children into this family and asked these parents to be their primary educators.  He wanted THEM with US.  With every educational hole that we have, with our only-24 hour days, and with toddlers who climb on the table and break all the pencils.  Even without the perfect poetry syllabus and even if they never learn the right way to write that darn cursive F.   He's here and if He has called us to this great task, then He will provide exactly what they - what we all - need.

My children don't need another teacher, another homeschool, another home. They need this one.  They need to be here with a mother who gives everything she has - as flawed it may be - because this is where He has placed them.  

Our homeschool will never be exactly like anyone else's.  And that's the point.  He has a unique plan for each of these people He's created and that includes this family in which He's placed them and this educational path He's presented to us.  I don't want it to be anything other than what He has designed it to be.

Whatever educational path we choose for our children, there will be holes.  How silly it is for this girl to forget that ironic twist in the midst of facing my own perceived lack of sufficient preparation, a girl who graduated in the top of her class in both Catholic and public schools.  There will be areas where they lack, things that they don't know that the others do.  GOOD.  That will teach them humility. That will teach them that they need to keep learning.  That will teach them that they can learn from other people and that they don't - and will never - know it all.  There will be things that others are doing that we can't do.  GOOD.  That will teach them to be happy for others and grateful for the things we can do.  It will teach them the art of discernment and to value being over doing.  There will be times when we want to give up, when we fight and yell, and when we have to deal patiently with the interruption of the little one in front of us.  GOOD.  That will teach them perseverance and mercy and forgiveness and love.  

What I want from my homeschool is kids who know how to learn and where to find the answers.  I want children who are curious, who love to learn, who know well that they don't know everything and are fascinated by that prospect.  I don't want jam-packed suitcases.  I want a passport, map, and compass.  More than anything else, I want children who are kind, noble, virtuous, and holy, ones who know the ultimate destination.    

Our homeschool isn't much compared to some and it's certainly far from perfect.  But it's where this group of souls meets every day to hopefully learn and grow and laugh and love (aaand fight and make up and hurt and forgive).  It's where He wants us and it's where we seek Him and His will for us. It's where we'll hopefully learn to do it.  And that's everything it (and yours) needs to be. 


  1. wow.
    I needed this today. Badly. This non-homeschooling mother of four thanks you :)

  2. Oh Mary, yes, I know! {{}}
    I've spent seasons at a time focusing on what we don't do, rather than what we do. Still fall into that pit at times. I started out homeschooling thinking I'd be raising little geniuses, truth is we fall a long way short, it appears I had other lessons to learn.
    Now I can look at homeschooling through a wider lens, having graduated three (soon 4) I realise the greatest gift I have given my children is the gift of time. Time with each other, time with me, time as a family, time to dream.
    So rest easy, mama and keep plodding away. You're doing a fantastic job xx

  3. So reassuring. Thanks for sharing. I think it's something we all experience.

  4. Wow! So often you speak exactly the thoughts in my heart, Mary! Thank you for taking the time to put them into words so eloquently! I needed to hear this too - your beginning of the year sounded similar to ours. Where is the fire? I'd ask myself. I think our littlest boys are just 6 months apart or so. Funny the havoc and blessed chaos they bring to the day! Take care, beautiful mama! Prayers for you and your sweet family!

  5. I stumbled across your blog recently, and this post was exactly what I needed on this doubt-filled homeschooling day! Homeschooling three little ones, despite the best efforts of their new little brother to prevent it ;) Thank you for your wise posts.


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