Homeschooling is Hard: and other admissions from a struggling parent

If you are a parent in 2020, odds are that you have just been unwittingly thrust into the world of homeschooling. Yikes! I know. Despite the fact that you would have never in a million years attempted to take responsibility for teaching your child how to “carry the one,” here you are; likely also trying to work a full or part-time job, venturing far and wide to find toilet paper and copious amounts of cheez-itz, all while managing the physical and emotional stresses of living through a pandemic, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Oh and also you can never leave your house or the presence of your children to recover any sense of individuality, sanity or “me-time” whatsoever. Okay, yeah. Cool. Let’s unpack how absolutely insane that is. Let’s maybe just validate each other in our complete state of overwhelm and angst for a hot-second.

Okay, so full disclosure: we have been an on-again, off-again homeschool family since the start. My kids are 8 and 7 and we have at times attended: a religious preschool, a charlotte mason inspired homeschool, our neighborhood public school, a nature-immersion wild school, a classical umbrella hybrid homeschool program…Yes, admittedly, we have had an eclectic and privilged experience, but it’s been a journey to discover the right educational environment for my kids; not to mention one that works well for me, their mother, who wants the best for them but who is also, like…a human being, too. For the record, during my tenure as a homeschool teacher I have also completed numerous professional certifications and sustained a range of part-time jobs. Hands are always full, that’s for sure.

Anyway, I have long loved the idea of homeschooling my kids — hipster dreams of reading Jane Austen and Jack London around a morning fire with our homemade sourdough bread and fresh eggs from our backyard chickens. Well wakeup call, our backyard chickens keep dying before they get to the egg-laying stage and my kids have no time for anything but Minecraft, “Captain Underpants” and Legos. Suffice it to say homeschooling hasn’t quite stacked up to my expectations, and I’m absolutely to blame for that. Come to find out, it’s really friggin’ difficult to create, let alone sustain the type of picturesque educational environment that I selfishly wished to experience for myself, probably more than anyone. Come to find out, you can’t necessarily force your kids to have a respect for classical literature or an innate desire to seek knowledge of all the local flora and fauna; tiny little hipster herbologists we are not. They’re young, yet. Maybe there’s still time for that. We’ll see.

The reality is that on a regular day, I really struggle to create the kind of strucure it takes to get everything checked off of our list, let alone enjoy the process of actually checking things off. Not exactly fair to expect my kids to be enjoying the process, either, eh? It’s really too bad. Some days we get it right, but dang, it’s not easy to “trust the process,” especially when the world is telling you that you need to be performing better, bigger and more often. And now, amidst this collective health and social trauma that we are all experiencing, how are we still that worried about “staying on track?”

If I look back to our humble beginnings, at the foundation, it was always my hope to give my kids more time to just be kids. It was important to me to let them discover their own appreciation for the creative and scientific processes instead of trying to curate and stunt that experience for them by interjecting my own, unrealistic timeline. I wanted to let their imaginations lead the way. In some ways I have succeeded at that, and in others I’ve failed. The bummer is that I sure have given myself a lot of grief along the way, as I meandered through the myriad of educational offerings without ever realizing that the key was to just take responsibility for enacting my vision, myself. And also to let go of forcing it. Yeah, that’s it, right there! The magic pill. Let. Go.

After doing this homeschooling thing in a roundabout way for the last few years, wow, have I learned how important it is to protect your values; fiercely. But I have also, with equal emphasis, learned to let go of any ideas I had about how this was all supposed to be. That has got to be the biggest gift I have given myself this past year; learning to roll with it. It’s a process.

I will say, that in learning to “roll with it,” we have received a lot of pushback from various sources, some of them official and some of them not, but all of them reeking of fear; a worry about underperforming or not being able to “catch up.” Catch up to what? It really makes you wonder why our education system is designed the way it is? And by the way, how appropriate is it really to expect our children to be “performing” at the level they are being asked to? My daughter is 6 and if she were in public school, she would be expected to be reading chapter books now. Dude, she literally has her entire life to read chapter books. What’s the rush? You only get to chase butterflies and build dirt castles for worms for so long.

So what does it look like to both protect your vision and go with the flow?

Yes, we have lists that we check off every day so that I can sleep at night knowing I am covering my bases. And then we have completely unstructured free-time. A lot of free time — because holy moly, I need to breathe, and so do my kids. Not going to lie, we bicker daily about having to do math worksheets and practice our handwriting. That definitely doesn’t fit in my hipster unschool ethos, but it does fit into a pretty decent reality, and what else do I get? Just grief.

As an on-again, off-again homeschool parent, it has been all too easy for me to lose sight of what this education thing is supposed to be all about; the kids — not the politics, not the standards, not the performance. But also, while it is absolutely about the kids, it is about me, too. And that’s okay. It’s not selfish. I have the right to design this in a way that is enjoyable, workable, meaningful to me. Don’t forget you get that for yourself, too.

In the past, we have been mostly out here, all alone in the Wild West of homeschooling, where there have been plenty of times that I have forgotten that I have rights, as the parent of my children. But now we’re not alone anymore. Suddenly, we have pioneer’s-wisdom to share with those who have been thrust into this new frontier. So if I had advice to share, it would be to stick to your guns but surrender where you need to. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This shit is hard! You don’t have to be excited about this or try to create any kind of “experience” that isn’t authentic to what is actually real for you, at this time. If you don’t make “progress,” holy crap it’s going to be okay. We are not producing little robots that lose the ability to grow after the age of 18. And if this experience is showing us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. We just have to roll with it, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Ultimately, we are sharing an experience with our children that will prove to be one of the most challenging, life-altering experiences of any of our lives. They will surely learn from it, because it is an unavoidable human experience. Just like us, they have no choice. And even though this is impossibly difficult and exhausting right now, if we can take away any positive, that would be a miracle. It’s not guaranteed, but if you have a good day, give yourself permission to call that a huge victory. And as far as homeschooling is concerned, just know that it’s okay to skate by and pray for swift relief to come or a new season of Dino Trux to be released.

Writer, Musician, Activist.

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