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.
Great post! I don’t know what homeschooling parents are thinking by sheltering their kids to this degree. Continued free childcare perhaps? I mean, typically parents will have their kids around until they’re 18 to 20, and then the kids should be self-sufficient.
You had to spend 18 and 19 stuck in limbo, and then you’re dad finally gave you permission to get a job at 20? That’s ridiculous! It just makes me angry.
I was fortunate in that I started working part-time at about 14, so I got to get out of the house. That’s experience was really valuable since I got to learn about dealing with different types of people and how to handle conflict. When parents forbid their children from working outside of the home until they are 18 or 20, it delays some very important aspects of social development.
Good for you for getting the counseling for social anxiety. I’ve spent a good deal of time with counselors for anxiety and depression myself. It is time and money well spent!
Thanks for sharing! Very good tips at the end!
Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like we are similar when it comes to the family part. I was raised as pretty much unschooled..although there wasn’t a name for it then, so we were ‘homeschooled’, but being from a large (10 kids) family, I didn’t receive actual schooling by an adult past probably age 10. And I was too busy helping raise the younger kids, cooking & cleaning to really spend time on schooling. So I did what I chose, which was mostly reading. I’m horrible at math, and insecure when it comes to talking about certain subjects (like history dates, science, chemistry…I’ve learned bits and pieces but not by much), thankfully I’ve gotten my GED except for the math part, which I have to go back for. I’ve gotten more confident since I’ve gotten married and adjusted to non-family secluded life and love being social with the new friends we’ve made, but I still have my moments. I’m 24, but still feel like I’m an awkward teenager somedays because I wasn’t the average teen, I was too busy being “mommy jr” as some of my relatives called me. And then there are some days that I feel way older, because I feel like I’ve already raised a family (which really, I guess I did), instead of only having a 1 yr old.
I wanted to add, I also never had a job or car outside of the home until I was married…the excuse was we had too much going on at home and they need me there more. And when I asked about getting my drivers license, I was told it was a lot of paperwork, & I didn’t need it yet because I didn’t have a job I needed to go to, so I could just drive on a learners with my parents. So basically a never ending circle of excuses to keep me at home (which was a 20-30min ride from the closest town and only a few older neighbors that we never really talked to) to help with the kids. I got my drivers at 19, at which point my fiancee gave me one of his cars to use so I’d be able to go out to meet him.
Thanks for listening to my vent/story. It’s nice to see that I’m not alone out there.