Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ruth” is a pseudonym.
This is my own consumer review of homeschooling. I want to share my story simply and directly, so you can understand the results, both the intended results and the side-effects (as someone put it). I was homeschooled all my life until I graduated from high school. So was my older sister and four of my ten younger siblings. The youngest six are still being home schooled.
So first the intended results: I was raised to get A’s. An A practically stood for Acceptable and anything less was handed back for corrections. Because of this rigorous focus on excellence, I am very strong academically. I graduated college with a 3.87 GPA, was inducted into two honor societies and received several other awards.
I’m smart. OK. I’m smart, and I’ve proved it.
Now let me tell you about the side-effects.
At age ten, I moved with my family to a rural area in a new state. From age ten to age twenty, I had no friends. I went to church on Sunday and to piano lessons every other week. My mom was so busy having and caring for my younger siblings that my high school courses consisted of me by myself plowing through one textbook after another. My mom was frequently unhappy with the amount of time I spent on my school work because she needed me to help with my siblings. I was free childcare, and while I loved my family (they were all the life I had), I completely missed out on any experiences that would have allowed me to develop my own identity as an individual or develop any independence from my parents.
When my older sister left for college, I was devastated. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister. We had hardly ever been separated, and I didn’t know anything about how to maintain a relationship with someone long distance or during times of separation.
When I graduated from high school two years later, I was completely at a loss. Since losing my older sister had been such a blow, I was sure I would die if I left the rest of my family, and I was terribly confused as to why my parents suddenly expected me to go to school after sheltering me so carefully all my life. I had never thought seriously about a job or a career because home and family life had always been so glorified, and besides, it was all I knew. I had often been told that I was going to be just like my mother when I grew up (twelve kids and all). So there I was, clueless, clutching very hard at whatever was left of the life I had known.
The years I was eighteen and nineteen are very dim in my memory. I helped my mother care for my younger siblings. I practiced organ three days a week at a local church. I went on homeschooling myself rather secretively.
When I was twenty, my dad told me I needed to get a job. I got a job in a fast food restaurant and was very blessed because my boss was a young woman three years older than me, and I immediately adopted her as my new big sister. She patiently, patiently, patiently loved and supported me as I adjusted to the big, wide world of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was her love, care, courage, ambition and confidence in me that made it possible for me to finally leave home at age twenty-five and attend college several states away. I graduated four years later, and while my college years were incredibly healing (I got to go to counseling regularly for two years and dealt with a lot of anxiety issues, and I was able to cut ties with my parents and become fully self-supporting with my own independent life), there were many, many times when I would have traded some of my academic success for some social skills.
In my life today, I honestly have to say that I am extremely lonely because I still don’t know very much about making friends. I still feel very confused about my age because I am a blend of the neglected child whose needs were set aside for her family or crowded out by the needs of her many siblings and the old (almost grandmotherly) me who knows way too much about childcare and has changed more diapers than many parents. I still feel less than other people because I still hardly know who I am as an individual, and I still find it difficult to realize that I am an adult now with a job, a career to tend to and money to earn and manage. I’m still in shock at my big, wide world, and I’ve been quite depressed for the last few months because I find myself so paralyzed, overwhelmed and confused as I confront it.
So here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected). If hearing my story can make even one of you feel less alone, less frustrated, or less like a freak than I’m glad that I shared it.
And to those who want to know how homeschooling can be improved:
1. Parents, please take into account a child’s age and level of development and don’t put more responsibility on her than is appropriate (either too much responsibility for her own education or too much responsibility for contributing to her home and family). And please, please don’t push parenting responsibilities off onto older siblings. They aren’t ready to be parents and being forced into that role deprives them of energy they desperately need to do their own growing up with, and it deprives younger children of the quality parenting that only adults can give.
2. Parents, please remember that each child is an individual person and a future adult, not just a member of your family. Too much isolation is not healthy, and a lack of friends and peers to share and compare experiences with deprives a child of validation, identity-building experiences and knowledge of social roles which are all extremely important to a satisfying adult life. Too little independence is not healthy. The process of becoming independent takes time (in reality, it starts at birth and is what all the growing-up years are about) and while you can certainly hinder this process and make your child’s normal development one hundred times more difficult than it has to be, you cannot stop her from growing up, so let go. Support her need for independence, and let go some more.