“If you think marriage is hard, just wait until you have children!”
“So you have morning sickness? You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“You have no idea what’s coming—the brave new world of parenting!”
My well-meaning work colleague voiced these sentiments to me before I became a mom. I tried to laugh them off, but they rankled me. How could parenting be so bad when multiple generations managed to do it . . . and raise reasonably well-adjusted citizens?
Just a few months later, I was a sleep-walking zombie mom of a 3-month-old, most of my words were jumbled together, and much of my to-do list was “put one foot in front of the other.” At that point, I understood what my coworker meant.
In a strange sort of way, my homeschooling journey has mirrored my parenting one. When I was homeschooled in the 1990s, I loved every minute of it. But I was on the outside looking in. I never knew the struggles, sleeplessness, and tears of frustration my parents experienced.
I was just having the time of my life, much like my baby now!
From homeschool alumna to teacher
Since I knew what it was like to be homeschooled as a student, I assumed it would be easy for me to homeschool as a parent. Wow, was I wrong.
Just being “parented” doesn’t transform you into a knowledgeable parent. True, it may help you avoid making some of your parents’ mistakes, but I was amazed by how quickly I made new mistakes that my parents probably never dreamed of!
With a newfound humility after my initial parenting shock, I began formally homeschooling my eldest in preschool, kindergarten, then 1st grade.
Along the way, I learned several key concepts that helped me adjust from being a homeschool student to a homeschool teacher.
Lesson 1: Think investment vs. cost
My parents assured me the first three months of parenthood were the hardest. After they saw how much I struggled, they said, “surely the first six months . . .” then it was the first year. Soon, I wised up to it and preempted them: “It must be the first 26 years that are the hardest!”
Seriously, though, homeschooling may be the longest, scariest, most hands-on investment you’ll ever make.
Unlike stocks or bonds, you can’t use a set-it-and-forget-it mentality for your investments when they’re bawling at 3 a.m. or throwing a tantrum at 10:30 a.m. after a frustrating morning of fractions.
It’s easy to see the immediate costs of parenthood or homeschooling—that’s the time you desperately need to remember why you’ve invested in this. You want your children to have (1) the best possible educational experience; (2) the “real world” of a rich, multigenerational family life; and (3) memories of you as their provider, life coach, mentor, and friend who was there when they most needed you!
While homeschooling isn’t the only way to reach these goals, it’s often a very effective route to them. But it’s not enough just to remember why you’re doing this. You need a day-to-day strategy, too.
Lesson 2: Celebrate the tiny victories
Today’s buzzword is self-regulation—also known as self-control or perseverance—my parents affectionately called it delayed gratification. It was how we, as children, learned to put aside things we wanted (or do things we didn’t want to do) for the sake of a bigger reward. For example, maybe we saved up money to buy a gift for Christmas or did extra chores for a special family outing.
Homeschooling offers numerous ways to practice self-regulation for children of all ages. I remember counseling my then 2-year-old that he needed to wait before he learned how to drive (or some other such far-off life event).
Instead of protesting, as I feared he would, he simply ducked into a small hallway closet. While I wondered what was happening, he reappeared and said meekly, “I waited. Now can I drive?”
My heart leapt. While I didn’t want to crush his spirit by explaining he needed to wait (at least!) 14 years instead of two seconds, at least he had tried to wait! Something in our homeschool must be working!
Unless you take time to celebrate tiny homeschool victories, life can get far more difficult than it needs to be.
It’s also important to know age-appropriate milestones, just as doctors know what is developmentally suitable at three months or two years.
Maybe your children are having trouble at long division, but do they have a good number sense? Are they creative at problem solving? If the answer is yes, a few roadblocks won’t overwhelm you as easily because you see the bigger picture.
Lesson 3: Broaden your concept of community
When we think of homeschool “community,” too often we just think of moms in the same age bracket as we are (or moms with kids the same age as ours are).
However, I’ve sometimes found the greatest encouragement from moms who are generations ahead of me. With their help, I can see the bigger picture and avoid getting tangled in all the details.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can sometimes provide the greatest encouragement to moms younger than yourself. Even if you don’t have specific advice for them, they can feel great comfort just knowing that someone else understands.
(If you haven’t already joined a local or state homeschool organization, I encourage you to do so! Co-ops, social media, and online resources all have their place, but something magical happens when you get involved in a homeschool organization. You get to share life with other families at a far more intimate, soul-satisfying level. It may be challenging at first, but you always get far more back than you put in!)
Now whenever I meet another first-time mom or homeschooler, I bite back the urge to warn them of the “brave new world” they’ll experience
Instead, the best thing I can do is offer them a welcome like this: “Congratulations! I’m so excited for you! . . . and if you ever want something, I’d love to help in any way I can.”