My teenaged daughter pulled a folded paper from her pocket and handed it to me. I opened it and began reading the typed words that filled most of the page. It wasn’t homework. It was a letter that contained one simple revelation: she didn’t want to be homeschooled anymore.
I held the letter close to my face, trying to hide my feelings and emerging tears. I was calm as I asked questions and offered rebuttals to the points she’d made in her letter. Increasingly, though, my hurt transitioned to agitation. Sarcasm and condescension slowly swelled in my tone. Resentment throbbed in my heart. I had thought homeschooling was one of the greatest gifts I could give her. More importantly, I had felt called by God to do so. I still did.
My daughter was fifteen years old at the time and finishing the tenth grade. She had always been homeschooled, minus the two years of preschool at a local church. Her desire to attend school surprised me. I wondered how long she had felt this way. I wondered how long she had carried around this letter and its sentiments before placing it in my hands. It took courage to give it to me, and I admired her for that, though my scathing remarks didn’t affirm her gesture.
The letter was respectful and well written. In fact, I would have given it an A if it had been a writing assignment. Ironically, I felt like I had received a failing grade. Not because she was critical of me, but because I recognized my shortcomings. For one thing, I had failed to communicate to our children why my husband and I thought homeschooling was so important.
Believing the Lies
My daughter’s request to attend public school rattled me to the core. I was convinced it was because of my deficits as a mother and teacher—not that the letter even hinted at such an accusation. I just took it upon myself to read between the lines.
I was so upset and embarrassed that I didn’t want to discuss it with anyone, not even my husband. I kept her letter under my pillow for two days before I shared it with him. I was afraid of what people would think because I knew what I was thinking—that I was a horrible, rotten, no-good, very terrible homeschool mom whose daughter couldn’t stand the sight of her.
I took my daughter’s appeal to attend public school as a personal attack on me. I was homeschooling out of love for God and my family, and I felt like my gift was being refused and trampled on. I had sacrificially given of myself each day for more than a decade. I said to her (gasp), “This is the thanks I get?”
I admit that I was slipping into homeschool burnout before I read my daughter’s letter. I was defensive about anything that resembled a criticism from my children, even if it was a flat-out, honest-to-goodness compliment. I felt I wasn’t as creative or effective as I used to be. When my daughter expressed a desire to attend school, I felt like I had been caught red-handed.
My zeal for teaching seemed to diminish as my children grew more independent. I felt useless as they relied on me less. They woke themselves, bathed themselves, and fed themselves. They knew how to clean the house, do the laundry, mow the lawn, and cook. They were disciplined academically too. I didn’t have to hound them to do their homework or study for a test. I didn’t have to nag them to read a book. They just did what had to be done. Period.
Discovering the Truth
After I got that letter, I didn’t sit down with my daughter and give her a presentation on the evils of public school and the blessings of homeschooling. My thoughts spilled out in dribs and drabs during the course of several months. Sometimes in mature, calm discussions. But mostly in defensive comments, adversarial debates, and argumentative situations that lacked self-control. Not on her part, but on mine.
This question, “Can I go to a real school?” had me on my knees, pondering and praying. Once I shed the hurt and bitterness that I had brought upon myself, I viewed my daughter’s request from a different perspective. I was finally hearing God’s truth rather than Satan’s lies.
I’m not an expert in childhood development, but I think it’s natural for children of any age to wonder about the world around them. That’s what we encourage as parents, isn’t it? We continually nudge our children to reach beyond their comfort zones and try new things, whether it’s trying exotic foods or exploring new ministries.
We want our children to be independent too. That’s why we teach them self-discipline and self-governance. So that someday they can be mature, responsible adults who contribute to their families, churches, and communities. So they can submit to God’s will and not their own.
We also train them to be discerning individuals, thinking through issues with a biblical worldview. We want them to challenge and question ideas with a careful balance of boldness and humility. We don’t want them to accept things just because they’ve always been done that way or because someone says so. We want them to ask why?
And that’s exactly what my daughter was doing. She was putting into practice everything we had taught her—to think and question, to explore and examine, to seek God’s best for her life. She handled the situation respectfully, thoughtfully, carefully, maturely. She handled it with courage and meekness, after prayerful consideration. She humbly explained her position and waited for our response. She did it all correctly. And I handled it all wrong.
Giving an Answer
My daughter’s letter prompted me and my husband to reevaluate our convictions and homeschool plan. We studied God’s Word, prayed, and examined resources. Our discussions ebbed and flowed as we determined whether or not homeschooling was still the best option for each member of our family and if our approach to it was still effective.
We ultimately determined that homeschooling was still God’s plan for us. We also purposed to better educate our children about the reasons why we homeschool, from a biblical perspective. In the short term, we addressed the specific concerns raised in the letter.
My daughter, who has a heart for the lost, viewed the public school as a mission field. This was one of the reasons she thought she should attend school. We believed she would be a bold witness for Christ, but we felt that her mind risked being polluted with false teachings, ungodly behaviors, and the possibility of being unequally yoked. We admired her desire, but we reminded her of her youth. In our hearts, my husband and I felt we’d be sinning against God by causing her to stumble (Mark 9:42).
She also felt pressure from people who have a negative view of homeschoolers. Our daughter felt this detracted from her ability to share Christ. She thought more people would be inclined to listen if she wasn’t different from them. Missionaries sometimes use this approach, but we weren’t comfortable with our daughter going this route. Not at this tender age, anyway. We clung to the idea that she should be set apart and different, doing all things for God and not man (Colossians 3:23).
Boredom, a common theme among teens, also played into her request to attend school. Our daughter thought her daily routine was dull, despite her ministries and extracurricular activities. She craved more variety and excitement than she was experiencing. My husband and I offered to help change up her routine, but we also advised her to practice being content in all situations (Hebrews 13:5).
Finally, we encouraged our daughter to seek counsel from other Christian parents. Initially, she thought this was a slam dunk. She reasoned that if she asked homeschool parents they’d support homeschooling, and if she asked parents of public-school children they’d support public school. I quickly burst her bubble.
“They’ll most likely tell you to honor your parents and submit to our authority, trusting that we know what’s best for you,” I said.
When August rolled around and I was gearing up for a new school year, I asked if she still wanted to attend the local high school. Four months had passed since she handed me that now-infamous letter.
She gave an honest response with a heart of humility. “Yes, I would like to go to public school. If it’s going to be a disruption to our family or if you feel like it would cause you and Dad to sin, then I don’t want to go. I’ll do whatever you and Dad think is best for me.”
And that’s just what we did. We chose what we thought was God’s best for us—to remain a homeschooling family. She accepted our decision and demonstrated a positive attitude toward our family and her schooling. It was encouraging for me as a mother and a solid example for her younger siblings.
I eventually apologized to my daughter for my behavior throughout this difficult time. I had acted like such a child. I tearfully asked for her forgiveness, and she nurtured me with a hug. “That’s all in the past, Mom. Each day is a fresh start and a new beginning. Nobody is perfect, remember? That’s what the gospel is all about.”
(Thank you, Natalie. I love you.)
Kathy Pomaville Pate and her husband, Patrick, live in Michigan with their four children—ages seventeen, fifteen, thirteen, and eleven—whom they’ve always homeschooled.