HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mercy” is a pseudonym.
Homeschool Moms (Present, Past, and Future), this post is for you.
I’ve thought a lot about how conservative, Christian (in my case, not fundamentalist) homeschooling has shaped my life, but it wasn’t until last year that I took the time to think about how it impacted my mother. My sister had just called home to tell me that her and her husband of a short time were divorcing. I broke the news to my mom before my sister did, to soften the blow a little bit. My mom’s face went grey and she said, “How could this happen to your sister? I did everything right.” There was little consoling her, she thought that she had failed as a parent.
Why would the divorce of a child who married at a young age, in a country with a high divorce rate come as such a shock to a parent? Because the homeschool movement told my mom that they had given her the magic formula to make her children’s lives perfect. They give her a list, and promised her that if she followed the rules that her children would be perfect, Godly, and never experience life’s pain. How could that not be a tempting promise to any parent who cares about their children?
Homeschool moms, I want to tell you that promise is false, and that believing it is going to hurt you. Your child is a sovereign individual, and no matter how carefully and lovingly you arrange every part of their upbringing, education, and socialization, you cannot control their future. You can’t control it because you don’t have total control over your child or other people. If you’re stressing yourself out, afraid you’re doing it wrong, and a constant bundle of nerves, I want you to take a moment and think about whether or not you have set unrealistic expectations for yourself as a parent, and your child as a child. You probably have, and I want to tell you to give yourself a break.
Also, a lot of you have commented on these posts explaining that you’re different from the “crazy” homeschool moms, and I do believe you, but chances are if you’re Christian and homeschooling, you and your kids will be interacting with fundamentalists and you may be gradually sucked into parts or the whole of their ideology over time. These are some warning signs that could cause you to be more susceptible or signal that you’re already being sucked in:
1. You have deep regrets about your past. Perhaps you were raised non-religious like my mother, and then converted later in life, causing you to view your earlier years as sin-filled and in need of atonement. Maybe you were raised in a religious home and just think that you made some stupid, sinful decisions. Either way, if you are feeling guilt about your past, and like you need to make up for it, I want to tell you that homeschooling perfectly isn’t the solution. Don’t let people lead you into thinking that this is your path to forgiveness and the way to prove that you have become good. Additionally, many homeschool conventions, talks, gatherings will involve long lectures and speeches about the evils that your kids are supposed to avoid and that are taking over America (divorce, abortion, pre-martial sex, drinking, drugs, etc…). If these are things in your past, that you have regrets about, I want you to step out of those talks and lectures and stop punishing yourself. By sitting through those demonizing speeches you are tearing yourself down emotionally. You’re forgiven, now move on.
2. You find yourself becoming increasingly judgmental of other’s “walk with God” and parenting choices. Perhaps you were always fairly even keel, easy to get along with, not too judgmental, etc… and then lately you’ve noticed just how few people seem to truly be Christians, and how other parents are not really raising their kids to be Godly enough. Stop right there. You are treading into dangerous water. I remember there was a stage in my mother’s homeschooling where she felt that she was dressing more modestly, using more Christian curriculum, and going to a Godlier church than most other people. My dad sat her down one day and said, “Do you remember where you came from? You look at everyone and judge them, like you’ve forgotten that you’re human, too.” Was my dad harsh? Yes, but it opened up my mom’s eyes to the fact that she, a woman who had always been a fair-minded free spirit, was becoming fundamentalist. My mom dumped her jumpers and added a good dose of charity and compassion to her assessment of other’s (including her children), and her assessment of herself.
3. You find other homeschool moms criticizing you and your children, as “sisters in Christ.” It feels like they’re just being mean, but everyone says that they’re being Godly… True story, they’re probably just being mean. If you are a more relaxed, liberal homeschooler, and you are involved in homeschool activities where you are around fundamentalist homeschoolers, they will judge you and your children. Other homeschool moms were constantly telling my mother about my “slutty” dressing and “immoral” ways. They sought to demonize me, punish me, and slander me because I was not a cookie-cutter Christian homeschooler. My mother always defended me, but what makes me sad is that she never defended herself. I noticed that the longer we were involved in certain homeschool activities populated by more fundamentalist homeschoolers, the more fragile my mom was becoming. She went from outgoing and smiley, to frighteningly quiet, she stopped telling jokes, she got sick almost every time we went to a homeschool gathering, and her head started shaking. It was like all of her bottled up anxiety and hurt couldn’t be kept in, so a barely perceptible shake would start as soon as we pulled up to a homeschooling event. I found out why my mother was acting this way my senior year of high school: other home school parents were bullying her. I overheard them openly confront her about how prideful, how unloving, how assertive, how terrible, and how unchristian she was. My mom never stood up for herself. To any mom who is being treated this way, and is afraid to stand up to it because you either think that a). you deserve this, or b). what’s being done is Godly I want you to be strong and call it like it is. Some homeschool moms are bitches. If they treat you and your kid terribly, tell them that it’s not Godly. It’s rude, and get out of there.
4. You’re told that the answer to parenting/homeschooling is ________________. There is no perfect way to parent. If you’ve come across a group, speaker, pastor, or curriculum that promises that they have the one and only way to good parenting and God then you know you’ve run into a nut job. They may have great success stories, and a bevy of perfectly mannered children at their beck and call to demonstrate their effectiveness, but you shouldn’t fall for it. There is not one way.
5. You feel like other homeschool families are always so much more perfect. You see these glowing, wholesome families who encourage you to homeschool and sell you curriculum, and then when you start homeschooling your kids don’t magically change. They don’t want to do their school, they fight with each other, they back talk, they may even turn into teenagers. And, you get frustrated, mad, tired, and say mean things. You might look at these other families and ask, “What am I missing?” What you’re missing is the whole picture. No family is perfect, nor are their children. Even the most well-mannered exemplars of homeschooling virtues have kids that misbehave and days where they feel frustrated, too. As you can see from this blog, a lot of these kids that may seem so much more virtuous than yours are actually deeply hurting and will eventually turn their parent’s perfect world upside down. So, be patient with yourself and your children, and don’t let other family’s public veneer make you feel like a bad parent.
And, please, please don’t feel like if you try homeschooling, and hate it, that you’re bad and must work through it. If you really hate it, are unhappy, and struggling, then maybe homeschooling isn’t for you and that is just fine. Keep your options flexible and your mind open. You don’t have to homeschool to have happy, well-educated, respectful kids. Look out for them, and look out for yourself. Don’t let other people force you into any lifestyle or belief system that you feel uncomfortable with, and if you feel as though that might be happening, be strong and get out now.
Yes! This message is oh so needed. Thank you. I am passing this on.
This is exactly right!! Thank you for expressing it so well and so graciously. I hope a lot of people who need it will read it.
2. You find yourself becoming increasingly judgmental of other’s “walk with God” and parenting choices. Perhaps you were always fairly even keel, easy to get along with, not too judgmental, etc… and then lately you’ve noticed just how few people seem to truly be Christians, and how other parents are not really raising their kids to be Godly enough.
This is One-Upmanship, pure and simple.
Holier Than all the Thous.
To the point you end up more Godly than God (which is always a bad sign). 2000 years ago, there was this one Rabbi from Nazareth who had a lot to say about that attitude — none of it good.
3. You find other homeschool moms criticizing you and your children, as “sisters in Christ.” It feels like they’re just being mean, but everyone says that they’re being Godly…
More One-Upmanship. Coupled with “Can You Top This?”
She Who Dies With The Most Godly Child Wins.
4. You’re told that the answer to parenting/homeschooling is ________________.
This is “The One Perfect Answer” Syndrome.
Usually given by those who have never experienced it.
(This goes back a LONG time — remember Job’s Counselors in the Book of Job in the Bible?)
5. You feel like other homeschool families are always so much more perfect.
Still more One-Upmanship and She Who Dies With the Most Godly Homeschool Family Wins.
Plus the Zero-Sum Game, where the only way to build myself up is to cut someone else down.
How does all this differ from a catty little clique in High School? (Except for God-talk elevating everything to literally Cosmic Importance.)
This is a very perceptive post. Where were you when I needed to hear this? (I have to admit that I laughed aloud at #5 because you described our household on many days!)
Something I much appreciate about this site is that there is healing offered to homeschool parents also, as difficult as it is at times to take an honest look at ourselves.
This post says many things I wish I could say to my mother but probably never will.
thanks for writing about this with understanding and compassion. I think you are right, parents don’t plan to become so legalistic as they sometimes end up.
YES THIS SO MUCH. My mom always says, “but what did I do wrong?”
Good words. Thank you!
Thank you from an overwhelmed homeschool mom
Omg, THIS! I think it’s very good advice and given kindly. My Mom was a fundamentalist and she had all these things happen to her too. Us kids have moved on, my Dad is remarried to a woman who isn’t Quiverfull by any means, but my Mom’s self-esteem was ruined by years of the kind of stuff you mention, plus other things, and she has never recovered. What toxic stuff, you know.
You mention your dad introducing a voice of sanity in #2. I’m interested in the role that fathers play in what seems to be a vortex of fundamentalism that homeschooler mothers seem to get sucked into. Your dad seems to have saved the family.
Excellent. She said it so well, I have nothing to add!
Oh my goodness, I needed to read this post. I was homeschooled throughout my entire grade school years, and I saw some of these things in the homeschooling world. Very harsh, judgmental people. Fearful parents afraid of those horrible public schools. A formulaic mentality that promised amazingly successful children if they were homeschooled.
It just really depended on which group you were homeschooled in. I knew super conservative ones that judged everyone else for not wearing skirts, etc. The homeschool group I was in in high school was considered “less holy” because our kids listened to rock music and didn’t wear skirts and were pretty normal. But my friends in that group were awesome and pointed me to Jesus when I needed Him the most. Not the “holier” homeschool group.
And yes, I know a lot of awesome people who’ve been homeschooled. I’d never take back my education because it made me who I am. It gave me some awesome principles to live by, and it helped me think critically about our world (critical thinking skills), and it helped me learn to be genuine and loyal, etc.
But it wasn’t simply homeschooling that did it. It was the people I was around, and it was God.
I know an equal amount of homeschoolers who’ve turned out to be bad, lazy, drug addicts, etc.. I’ve known public schoolers who are awesome examples of Christ and love broken people.
It’s not black and white. It never will be.
So thanks for writing this. Homeschool moms need to hear it.
Wonderful post. I’m a “liberal” homeschooling mom, and it’s been very hard to find like-minded homeschoolers. But we’ve been lucky to find a laid back family who we meet with regularly. We haven’t let our differences in belief affect our friendship, but I wonder if she gets judged for being friends with us. Your post is good for all moms – not just religious moms – if we’re feeling stressed homeschooling, then it’s best to rethink what we’re doing. I try to talk to my son about homeschooling (he’s six). He says he loves homeschooling, but, of course, I worry about how he’ll feel when he becomes an adult. I hope he’ll still feel the same way.
To the author,
Were you homeschooled through to graduation? Do you appreciate that you were homeschooled?
I have found many (perhaps all) of the things you said to be relevant. I did not take my daughter out of public school to remove her from the world, but to give her a better education.
There are only a few people who have done this for the same or similar reasons or for reasons that are not wholly a result of their religious beliefs among the homeschool families I know.
I am really enjoying homeschooling from the perspective of the academics and despite my daughter being very social, I think she is enjoying it, too. What I do not enjoy is having to walk around on egg shells while participating in some homeschool activities.
It is important for children to have peers. My daughter has many extra curricular activities where she meets children who are not being raised fundamentalist (gymnastics, dance, softball), but we do have groups we particpate in that are pretty fundamentalist and we have had some problems. For example, while in public school, I had to explain to my daughter that the phrase “kicked in the nuts” was not appropriate language to use in public and that she didn’t have any (nuts I mean; and I apologize for the crudeness) but as a result of one of our homeschool associations, I’ve had to explain to my daughter that she is not a devil worshipper because we celebrate Halloween.
Even the public school partnership in our area is pretty stocked with fundamentalists which many times brings out a fundamentalists feel in an area you otherwise might not expect to see it.
Are you suggesting that it is better not to homeschool? Do you have other ideas which are not just “run away very fast if you see this happening”?
Thanks in advance for your response.
Cindy, I would like to try to answer some of your questions, but I’m not sure where the best forum for that would be. Would you like me to correspond with you in these comments, or could I send you an email or message on your blog.
Let me know,
Brilliant article – thank you for articulating the dangers of legalism in the Christian home educating movement.
Great article. I homeschooled my children for one year but I did it for all the wrong reasons, i.e., I waited a long tim to have children so I wanted to spend every waking moment with them, because I was mad at one of the teachers, etc. I really did not enjoy it but felt so judged and pressured by my friends who were all homeschooling. However, I saw too much self-rightheous and not enough support for each other in our homeschooling group. I ended up putting our children back in school and they are happy and thriving and learning. However, some of my friends would not talk to me after I put them back into school. How Christian is that? I needed to hear your words that homeschooling is not for everyone. Being an adult who was raised with no self-confidence, you helped my see that it is okay, and that my children can turn okay even if they are not homeschooled.
Thanks for sharing.
For us, the reason why we Homeschool is you get to mold your child the way you believe will be the best for them, but yes, we cannot control their future. As long as you knew you’ve done your best, it is enough.
This is very good. I tried homeschooling for all of last year for a very specific set of reasons (my younger child was being bullied at school, and I was increasingly uncomfortable with the fundamentalist Christian brainwashing in their private school – which was chosen for my kids by my parents-in-law… But that’s another story.)
I was open to homeschooling for longer if it worked. But after a year the kids & I agreed it wasn’t great for us. This year they’re in public (government) schools and so much happier. The key thing, I think was that I didn’t accept homeschooling as my identity.
Also feeling grateful I turned down the offer to join a super conservative homeschool co-op. They would’ve found me far too lax for their strict morals!