Drawing this series to a close has been a great time of reflection for me. For this magazine’s past ten Beginning Homeschooling columns, I’ve tried to address the fears and reservations that are common to new homeschoolers. I’ve thought back to the late 1990s, when my husband and I decided to give homeschooling a try with our oldest daughter. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to teach my kids to read, worried my children wouldn’t have enough opportunities to make friends, and fearful I’d pick the “wrong” curriculum or somehow be an inferior teacher, putting my kids at an academic disadvantage.
With the help of my husband, I was able to overcome those early fears. God blessed our teaching efforts while our family eventually grew to six children. As the years went by and we continued to homeschool, I faced new challenges: teaching older children with toddlers and babies tagging along, adding foreign languages and advanced courses to our daily schedule, and handling the paperwork and career exploration of the high school years. With each step, I had to overcome a whole new batch of fears.
Common to All
More recently, my husband and I have had the privilege of helping dozens and dozens of parents solidify their decisions to homeschool and begin the educational journey with their children. As those parents—moms in particular—honestly shared their concerns with me, it gradually dawned on me that these new homeschoolers were encountering the same fears I once faced. In other words, I began to see a common pattern.
Whether we are considering homeschooling, new to homeschooling, or seasoned veterans, we all must beat a common group of fears. I witnessed firsthand that “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)!
Then just last week, I was researching something on Home School Legal Defense Association’s website, www.hslda.org. I noticed that their president, Mike Smith, offers to speak to homeschoolers at conventions and support group settings.
Of the nine speech titles he lists, three of them directly address homeschool fears:
- “frustration of feeling like a failure”
- “lack of confidence to believe that they can actually do the job, or, put another way—fear of failure.”
- “the greatest deterrent to homeschooling—fear and inadequacy . . . fear of failure, one of the greatest enemies of homeschooling moms”
One third of his talk topics address how to overcome fears! Mr. Smith confirmed (again) for me that we homeschool moms have common fears. Hmmm, I think we’re on to something!
Don't Look in the Rearview (or Side) Mirrors
Women in general, and homeschool moms in particular, tend to fear, fret, and worry when we compare ourselves. Comparison usually yields feelings of not measuring up. There are three types of homeschool comparison, all equally flawed and therefore dangerous to our emotional health:
- We compare ourselves with the past, when our home life was slower or simpler—maybe because we only had one child, two incomes were flowing in, or we had a greater degree of outside help from family or a homeschool support group. When we compare with the past, we feel disappointed in ourselves now.
- We compare ourselves with other homeschooling moms. For some reason, we have the impression that all their children read flawlessly by the time they are four years old, math brings no tears in their homes, and they practice answering ACT/SAT questions together at the dinner table. When we compare ourselves against an ideal other, we cannot possibly measure up. We are left feeling inadequate.
- We compare our children to each other. One child is artistic and her sister not so much. A son wrote creative stories when he was eight; his older brother still struggles to get words onto paper. When we compare one child’s abilities to his sibling’s, somebody is sure to fall short. Comparing one dear child’s abilities to another’s only results in frustration.
When I am feeling disappointed, inadequate, or frustrated, fear can set in. It’s the fear that says, “Maybe you shouldn’t be homeschooling at all.” But I must lay those feelings down on the altar of God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” so any fearful feelings I have aren’t coming from the Holy Spirit.
I must not put my faith in my feelings, which are fickle and unreliable. If I am walking with God, I will let the Spirit produce His peace in me. I must instead put my faith in the truth, and then my feelings will begin to resemble the fruit of the Spirit. When the feelings of fear begin to surface, that should be a signal to turn my heart back to the unshakeable and unchanging character of God.
What is Your Purpose?
If living by the truth is just the first step to overcoming the fears I face in homeschooling, what else can I do that’s practical?
My husband has helped me immensely to give context to our homeschooling. In other words, why are we going to the sacrifice and expense of educating our children at home?
A great exercise for new homeschoolers is to list all the reasons you began homeschooling in the first place. Refer to it when the fears creep in. Like an anchor holding you in rough water, the reasons you have brainstormed will provide a context for any disappointment, inadequacy, or frustration you may be feeling.
Going one step further, years ago my husband and I developed a family mission statement. It was a broad phrase that set a purpose for what we do as a family, as a couple, and as parents. Your purpose statement will be different—after all, it’s yours—but ours is “Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.” From that mission flows our priorities, our goals, and most of our daily choices in homeschooling and in all of life. It’s even the name of our homeschool—LEMILOE Academy.
For example, our daily goals in homeschooling are rooted in our mission statement. Discipleship of our children is our number-one priority, even above academics. When one of the kids is struggling with algebra and I start to get fearful, our mission statement reminds me that his Christian character is more important than his ability to solve equations. When our schooldays don’t go according to my well-coordinated lesson plans, I might start to compare us to the local schools and feel fearful that we are falling behind, but our mission reminds me that God sometimes gives us interruptions so we can serve each other. Having a greater purpose overshadows the fears.
Hanging a Banner
I’ve found that having a larger purpose for my children’s school years gives context to the days and weeks. Looking ahead (remember, no side-view or rearview mirrors), I ask myself, “Where do I want my kids to be by the end of the year? By next year? When they graduate?” To give you a picture, if you were going to paint a banner for each child to hang over his seat at the dinner table at the end of the school year, what would that banner say?
Based on our mission and goals, I make small, gradual plans to reach the goals, and I stick to those plans: We are going to do two science experiments this week, my son will write and edit his own creative story this month, I will read one chapter of historical fiction aloud every day before lunch.
Once I make a plan, I am intentional about achieving it. Measurable steps of accomplishment, even tiny ones, help me overcome the fears. Like the Israelites gathering rocks to remember their crossing of the Jordan River in Joshua 4, reaching the goals I set lessens my homeschooling fears and reminds me that we are on track.
Finally, don’t be tricked into thinking your fears about the future would be eliminated if your children were in a public or private school. Not only would similar fears exist (“Will she make good friends? Will he get into college? Will she learn what she needs for life?”), but you’d have many additional concerns about your children’s welfare.
Though we’ll never eliminate our tendency to fear, we can be sure that the God who has called us to the task “is faithful, [He] will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.