by Lisa Serra
Soon I will be retiring from this career to which I have devoted myself. I began homeschooling my oldest son in 2002. At that time, I had three children. My path into homeschooling was circuitous like most of yours. I had a precocious son who could read and understand math like a second grader but he couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes. In the spring of 2002, my husband and I sat through kindergartens that were traditional, child-centered, Montessori, and one that was so esoteric that I can’t even remember the name now. Did I mention we lived in northern California? Nothing fit. Then, I read a book about homeschooling (sitting in Barnes and Noble) and it would forever change our family. I attended a conference and was (slightly) convinced. When the big yellow bus pulled up in front of our house in September of 2002, my son did not get on.
That was a long time ago. That squirrelly little boy went on to finish a chemical engineering degree with honors and marry a lovely young lady (but that is a story for another day). I was the reluctant homeschooler but I was blessed along the way to have some marvelous mommas to mentor and encourage me. I hope what follows encourages you.
The eleven (or one hundred) things I have learned in this twenty-year journey.
1. Comparison is the thief of joy. If I had a tattoo (I don’t) it might be of this little saying. It is cliched and we all know it but somehow when it comes to parenting in general and homeschooling in particular many of us fall victim to comparisons. And we fall short. It took me many years and constant reminders from my husband to let go of the comparison monster. As a reminder for all of you, God blessed you with your children and uniquely gifted each of them. Your situation is not like anyone else’s. Being inspired by another mom’s approach to homeschooling is smart. Letting it drift into envy and dissatisfaction with your own situation is not. I finally was able to let go of comparisons concerning homeschooling and parenting. At the gym I still fall for it. Work in progress.
2. Know your why. When I began homeschooling surprisingly many did not immediately praise my fine decision. In fact, most criticized it and that criticism came from everywhere, fellow moms in my Bible study, friends at the neighborhood playgroup, family members and even the checker at Walmart. It served us well to have a mission statement, written and easily available for those moments. Also, I found that when life happened unexpectedly and those doubters and naysayers would suggest that I quit homeschooling because it was too hard, complicated and demanding it helped to have a written statement of why.
3. Invest in yourself. Once upon a time, I had a child and decided to leave the corporate world to raise that child and eventually homeschool him. I threw myself into my new career with a zeal that I never felt for my previous career. I read books and magazines. I went to talks and conferences. In fact, I read nothing but books and magazines that related to homeschooling. Then I went to a dinner party and found out that unless you had a large family of young children that you were also homeschooling, we didn’t have much to talk about. I was, in a word, boring. Homeschooling is a full-time occupation but it doesn’t last forever. If you have a profession you intend on returning to, be sure to keep up with your professional education. Today I take classes to explore other fields that I may like to go into after homeschooling. I also try to have outside interests that have nothing to do with being a homeschooling mother. I think that I am modeling lifelong learning for my children as well so it’s a win for all of us.
4. Learn with the kids. Homeschooling is a wonderful opportunity to shore up deficiencies in our own educations. My education did not include any classical studies and unfortunately, I was exposed to dry, politically correct textbooks more than to really wonderful classical literature. Happily, I have been able to change that with homeschooling. Also, it has given me something to talk about with my children. There are lessons to be learned for all of us in this. I try to be open to that now.
5. Take a break. We all need a mental health day once in a while. Sometimes when my kids were little and absolutely nothing was going right, I would load everyone into the van, pick up Chik-Fil-a, and go sit in the park. The next day we could start again. The truth is sometimes we need to sharpen the axe, so to speak. I am extremely type A and this was hard for me to do but if I tried to plow through my to-do list on those days it never worked. We all need a break sometimes.
6. If it isn’t working change it. As an addendum to the previous point, if every day is bad something needs to change. Maybe it’s your routine, extracurriculars or even parts of your curriculum. In the beginning of my homeschooling journey, we used a popular math program that all of the park day moms loved. My child hated it and it became a very bad time of day each day I forced him to use it. In desperation I went to the next park day and there a seasoned mom told me that perhaps it wasn’t my child that was the problem but maybe it was the curriculum. We changed math programs that day and never looked back.
7. We are homeschoolers not school at homers. A long time ago I had the notion that my children would not be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance, know how to line up to go outside or know the pleasure of getting beat up for their lunches (just kidding about that last one). I began my homeschooling journey by dutifully creating a beautiful homeschool classroom. Then, I needed the room and I got tired of living in a house that strongly resembled a kindergarten classroom. I was then reminded of the following truth. We are homeschoolers because we learn at home, not because we created a school in our homes. My kids did learn the Pledge of Allegiance (thank you, Boy Scouts). They learned to line up and act appropriately in the multitude of other activities they were in. And thankfully, no one ever tried to take their lunch.
8. Technology is a wonderful servant but a horrible master. Distractions, distractions (looking at you Instagram). This is actually something I have had to work on recently. You see, when I started homeschooling in 2002, the internet wasn’t even really a thing. We received our support group newsletters in the mail. My biggest issue then and the one thing I was really guilty of was talking on the phone (texting wasn’t a thing yet). Today, I can easily fall down the rabbit hole of checking Instagram, Youtube, podcasts—you name it. I have had to put my phone away and use the focus setting to not look at my phone while I am homeschooling. It is hard and so tempting but I can waste precious homeschooling hours on absolutely nothing.
9. Everyone has a bad day. Sometimes things just don’t go right. It may have something to do with you or your children or nothing at all to do with any of you. Homeschooling isn’t the reason and it has helped me to remember that bad days happen if you have a child going to public school or private school. Bad days happened even BK (before kids). When my children were young and I was very sleep-deprived and the dog threw up and I had an argument with my husband, it was tempting to look at the yellow school bus out front with stars in my eyes. Fortunately, my husband and homeschool mom friends were there to remind me that everyone has a bad day. So, I am reminding you, everyone has a bad day.
10. Enjoy every minute. Again, a massive cliché here but it is so easy to forget that your children won’t always want to spend time with you. They won’t always want to snuggle on the couch for that wonderful read aloud, especially when they are teenagers. Their math will get really hard and so will their Latin and Classical Studies. I wasn’t very good at this when everyone was so little and so needy but I think many of you are ahead of me in this.
11. Leave the rest to God. I have a little prayer I say at night when I go to bed. I will share it with you so you may use it if you like. Dear Jesus, Today was a ____________(wonderful, amazing, horrible, okay, meh) day. I did my best but I am tired now. There are some things that need to be dealt with. Fortunately, I know you don’t need to go to bed so I will leave those things with you. Thank you for all you do and have done for me. Goodnight.
I hope this little list has blessed you. I am still practicing at many of these things and will continue to practice until my last one walks across the virtual graduation stage. Have a wonderful year and if you ever need encouragement I am only a phone call away (but you probably won’t get me during school hours—see number 8 above).