It is often in our failures that we learn the biggest lessons; the same holds true for parenting.
Several weeks ago, on the final leg of our summer road trip, I had an epic mom fail. We still had 4 hours to go and I was tired and crabby and ready to be out of the car. I don’t even remember now what it was that set me off, whether it was the girls bickering or complaining that I wasn’t changing the DVD fast enough or spilling food or asking for the billionth time when we were going to get there, but I lost it. I got angry and I screamed at my kids.
I yelled that they needed to be better listeners, that mommies get tired too, that I can only do one thing at a time, that we would get there when we get there, and probably a few other things I wished they would understand right at that moment that they just didn’t.
I screamed and they both burst into tears. Not annoying whiney tears, or fakey tired tears, but real tears. The tears of two little girls who had just been genuinely hurt by the one person who is supposed to love them the most. I saw the devastated looks their faces and all my anger and irritation just evaporated. I burst into tears then too, and immediately apologized and asked for forgiveness, which they both gladly gave me, and after a few more tears, we all moved on.
But it was that in that moment I understood, perhaps only for the first time, just how fragile, how tender, and how easily bruised my children’s spirits really are.
I’ve had a lot of people ask why we decided to homeschool this year. There are many reasons, but the main one is our first year experience with public school was pretty rough. Maggie was the youngest in her class, emotionally immature but academically way ahead. Quiet and well-behaved and not needing any “extra” attention, she spent most of the year being completely ignored by her teacher.
When Chuck and I expressed concern at the beginning of the year that she wasn’t being challenged, we were met with a lot of defensiveness from the teacher and a little condescension from the administration. “It’s still early in the school year,” they told us, “just wait and see. We’re the educators, we know what’s best.”
So we sat back and said nothing for most of the year. I didn’t want to be seen as “that” mom, the annoying, overbearing one who thinks her kid is better than everyone else’s. And frankly, I was distracted and busy with my own projects and blogs and to-do lists. If nothing else, sending Maggie off to school each day gave me seven extra hours to get stuff done.
It wasn’t until spring that I really started to notice how withdrawn and moody and insecure she had become. I spoke up again, and this time, with a new principal, my concerns were taken more seriously, but it was near the end of the year and it became a matter of too little, too late.
I had thought about homeschooling for a long time but, to be honest, I was terrified to begin. There were so many questions, so many unknowns. Would my kids even listen to me? Would they be able to learn from me? Would I have the patience for it? How would I manage teaching two different ages two different things at the same time? How could I homeschool and still write my blogs or run my business? What if my kids became unsocialized and weird?
On the second-to-last day of school, I attended the Kindergarten “graduation ceremony.” Each student was introduced by their own teacher and I was horrified when my daughter’s teacher pronounced her name wrong. All I could think right at that moment was that as a parent, I had failed her completely. I had stood by and let my daughter spend an entire year learning from a woman who couldn’t even be bothered to learn her name. Every fear I had about homeschooling was replaced by a determination to never put my child in a situation like that again.
This is not meant to be an assault on teachers. Teaching is hard work. I have many, many friends who are teachers, and I know just how much effort they put into everything they do. From an objective standpoint, I also understand that my daughter’s teacher probably did the best she could. She had 15 students, several who were behind, a few of whom were extremely disruptive and challenging. With only so many hours in the school day, she probably had no choice but to focus most of her time and energy on the kids who needed help, not the quiet, well-behaved little girl who already knew the material sitting sweetly in the corner.
But as a mom, it’s not my job to be objective.
Those two separate instances redefined my purpose, and I realized that if I have one job as a mom, it is simply to NOT let my child’s spirit be crushed, by own actions or anyone else’s.
It’s my job to fight for my child, to pay attention and advocate and push and yes, even be annoying and overbearing if I have to be. It is my job to guard them and keep them safe, not just physically but emotionally as well. To let them know, under no uncertain terms, that they are more important than all the other distractions in my life–the blog post I need to write, the TV show I want to watch, the article I want to read, the chores that have to be done, or the email that should be returned. It is my job to instill a sense of confidence and security and responsibility, to teach them all the things they need to know to be a successful human being. Because if I don’t do it, no one else will.
In the months since we have started homeschooling, I have had the incredible honor of watching both my daughters not only learn new skills and excel in their schoolwork, but bloom as people. With every passing day they are more confident, happier, less moody, & more content, so much so that other friends have noticed it and commented on it too. It makes me a little sad that I didn’t realize sooner just how they needed this, needed me, but the best lessons in life are often the hardest. Luckily for me, kids don’t hold a grudge.
A lot of people have also asked how long we plan to homeschool, if we will do this for junior high and high school too, and the honest truth is that I don’t know yet. We will cross that bridge when we get there. All I know is that for right now, this is where we need to be. If you are interested in some homeschool resources, please feel free to download my homeshool planner.
UPDATE: After a wonderful year of homeschooling, we decided give school another try–this time at a small local private Christian school. I wrote more about that decision here, and about how to afford private school on a budget here.