“As a mother, you are called to love unconditionally, never allowing your evaluation of your child’s performance to color their understanding of your love for them,” writes Missy Andrews in My Divine Comedy: A Mother’s Homeschooling Journey. That hit me like a ton of bricks as I read Andrews’ relatable book.

Andrews writes knowingly of the cognitive dissonance of being both parent and teacher and the challenges and pitfalls of wearing both hats. She writes that her son once said, “The best thing about homeschooling is that your mom is your teacher; the worst is that your mom is your teacher.” I know my three children would all nod in agreement with this statement. Like Andrews, I was always a driven student, and perhaps, if I’m honest, a little too performance oriented.

As my son enters his senior year of high school, Andrews’ book is a timely reminder to me to trust less in my own abilities and performance and more in God’s guidance, mercy, and unconditional love for both my child and for me.

It is a constant battle for me to separate my son’s grades, intellectual interest, test scores, and achievements from my own self-worth. I hate this, because I used to smugly think that I was too wise to fall into that trap. But most of us who are the primary educators of our children consider homeschooling our “profession.” It is tricky not to view their performance as our job evaluation. Andrews, like me, struggles with working to please others, and her book is an honest reminder to all of us who believe that education is not to be treated as a commodity, but who sometimes find ourselves acting otherwise.

How can I be the mother my child needs while simultaneously being the teacher/guidance counselor he needs? I have struggled with this question throughout my time as a homeschooling mom, but it hit with brutal intensity in the high school years.

I love that he does not care about getting straight A’s because I taught him that learning, not the grade, is what matters. I hate that he does not care about grades because now because they will determine the scholarship amounts he is eligible for, and our finances are all wrapped up in it.

One minute I want him to be well-rested and healthy, and the next I ask if he going to be able to keep up with the rigorous pace of college?

If I give him grace on a late assignment because he was called in to work an extra shift, will I fail to prepare him for a college professor who will not care that he had two other tests and a long paper due in the same week?

I want to be an honest evaluator, but how do I do that when I have insider knowledge? He isn’t being compared to 27 other classmates all taking the same course; he is being compared to what he is capable of. As his mother, I have watched him since birth, observing him in all his brilliance, and know his shortcomings.  

During a recent college visit, I sat across from the admissions professional and listened as she told me what one part of my brain knew: that homeschooling mothers usually tend to be difficult graders and that sometimes she wished she could send a transcript back with a note to be a little more generous in the evaluation. I spend so much energy wondering if I am too hard, or too easy. I will still wonder that, but her observation was a helpful reminder that a lot of us are in the same boat: attempting to honestly evaluate the work of someone we love with our whole being and be objective in the process.

For some parent/child relationships, using outside instructors is a necessity to prevent damage to the relationship. For me, selecting a few outside courses has allowed me to see how my evaluations of my son’s work compare to the evaluations of someone who doesn’t know how much or how little time he spent on assignments, how talented he is, or how late he stayed up playing video games before the test.

I have found a premade rubric helps me be more objective. I still remember my surprise when I found a writing rubric that suggested that a couple of grammar mistakes were allowed without marking down the grade.

Andrews writes her book to moms like me, who have a “peculiar proclivity to conflate [our] children’s successes with [our] own.” Her reminder to not neglect the chance to disciple our children is invaluable when we find ourselves occasionally caught up in the trap of equating our performance with our worth.

This year, I will still teach most of my son’s classes. I will mark his papers with all the corrections and suggestions I think he needs. I plan to relish the chance to discuss ideas with him and remember that he will be having most of those discussions with others in the years ahead.

At the end of this journey, I will miss teaching each of my children. But I will also heave a big sigh of relief when the task of marking up their papers belongs entirely to someone else.