Sometimes quitting is the key to homeschool happiness.
What's not working for you?
By this time of year, most of us have found a rhythm. Sure, there are bumps and bad days and the occasional routine shake-up, but mostly, we know what our typical homeschool day is going to look like—which is why now is the perfect time to pay attention to what’s not working in your homeschool.
Maybe it’s that Tuesday afternoon park day that you’re always stressed trying to make it to on time and where that braggy mom is always making you feel like you’re homeschooling wrong. Maybe it’s the history curriculum that everybody grumbles through, so much so that you never seem to actually get to history anymore. Maybe it’s starting the day with math, which seemed like such a good idea when your friend suggested it but which has gotten pretty much every day this month off to a grumpy start. Maybe it’s your pottery classes, or your current readaloud, or the co-op that just doesn’t feel like a good fit anymore. Whatever it is, it’s time to bid it farewell.
We tend to think of quitting as a negative—it’s like giving up, right? We want to be people who follow through on what we start, especially if we’ve committed money, or time, or energy to a project. Shouldn’t we see it through to the end? But sometimes quitting can be a great thing. Quitting something that isn’t working frees you up to find something that is working better, something that you really love instead of something thatyou’re just trudging through.
Your mission this week: Pinpoint something that isn’t working in your homeschool—it can be as big or small as you want—and quit it, guilt-free.
Lately, I keep thinking back to a dance class my oldest daughter took when she was four. It stands out in my mind as one of my early parental blunders. She didn't want me there, you see. It was an “all by myself” moment which I failed to honor.
From my lap, she had turned and whispered, “I don't want you to watch.”
I remember sitting in a chair outside of the dance studio, watching mothers enter with their daughters as I stirred my feelings of jealousy. “I'm paying for the class,” I reasoned. “She’s my kid. I deserve to watch.”
I also remember the look on her face when she spied me there, hiding at the back of the room near the doorway. It completely erased the delight I had felt at watching her dance. In that moment, I was transformed into someone she couldn’t trust, and to come entirely clean with her about my emotions and desires seemed the only option.
Truthfully, it broke my heart a little, but I also understood that it wasn’t really a rejection. She was simply saying that she was prepared to go this one on her own... as she would be prepared, over the years, to try many things I may or may not have enjoyed watching.
“I messed up,” I told her clearly. “This was my error, my selfishness. Though it may have felt that way, it had nothing to do with a lack belief that you could do this thing on your own.”
Until last year, when she started college, she’d never been in a traditional school setting. That decision, which originated with me, had given us ample hours together. Some mothers cringe when they think of time with teenaged girls, but I have no regrets. That conversation we started having when she was four and I screwed up at dance class? We are continuing it still.
I had expected to experience a bit of heartbreak when she decided to try college full-time. The change wasn't necessarily easy for her. As an unschooler accustomed to taking charge of her own time and planning her days and weeks to meet her own agenda, she had some struggles with “someone else” making so many demands on the way she filled her calendar. I honestly wasn’t sure she would commit to continue past the first semester.
But now we had more to talk about than ever before. For those first few weeks of college, in fact, I remember having this feeling that we had returned to that hand-in-hand place. Though she was more frequently gone, when she was at home we were often in the same room and interacting with an intensity that hadn’t existed between us since she was young enough to need me for things like reading directions and reaching the projects on the highest shelf. She was constantly filling me in on her experiences and observations. She was full of questions and eager for my input.
Today I’m generally comfortable standing on the sidelines or completely leaving the room when asked. I recall from my own childhood that it was sometimes easier to be brave, bold, and experimental when my mother wasn't around.
She knows I’m her biggest fan and supporter. But she also knows that I trust her and will listen when we disagree. When she says, “I've got this,” I know now to walk away, to keep my opinions to myself, and to leave her needs above my wants.
My youngest just got his learner’s permit for driving. His sisters coached him through studying for the written test. I felt oddly removed from the process. I offered to help him study a couple of times, but he said, “No thanks, Mom. I’ve got it.” He passed on the first try.
Getting the permit was only step one, of course. He needs me for the next part because his sisters aren’t yet “of age” per Kansas law to be in the passenger seat while he learns to drive. So I am handing over the keys and wondering why it isn’t easier. I’ve been down this road twice. My oldest gets in her car at least once each day now, and I don’t always know where she is going. Middle kid is well on her way. She is three months from being a driver without restrictions, and in my mind (which is where it really counts) we are pretty much there, as well.
But here I am… actually making excuses for why my son might not want to try driving at highway speed for the first time today… the cold weather, the holiday traffic, the glare of the setting sun on the window… the fact that I just want to get there quickly (I don’t even speak this one out loud).
For the holiday weekend, I took my son and his sister back to the place of my birth for a two day visit. The roads in western Kansas (as opposed to east-central Kansas where we live now) are flat and straight and meet each other in tidy, perpendicular lines.
“These are the roads you need to learn to drive on,” I told my son, when the bulk of the trip was behind us. “There are no surprises. You can see the next car a mile or more away.”
He did drive a bit on those roads, but he didn’t see them as superior. He said, after a couple of miles, that there was a kind of hypnotizing quality to driving in such a straight line. We came upon a cross on the side of the road, less than a mile from my father’s rural home. It can be easy to forget that believing there are no surprises on the road ahead isn’t necessarily the way to live.
I would like to say that after so many years of unschooling, it is easy now to trust, to embrace the sometimes jerky starts and stops, the sudden braking when you thought you were accelerating and vice versa. I would like to claim I have learned better, but I am still guilty of embracing those old straight roads of my past. I am tempted to say to my son, “Just let me take you there. I will do the hard part. I’ll keep driving; you just tell me where you want to go.”
The thing about this lifestyle that we have chosen is that it is so fluid, so ever-changing, and while it was often easy to see, living day-by-day, that unschooling was a good fit for our family, I’ve had to remind myself now and again that not knowing exactly where we were going and how we were getting there was okay.
Driving is one of those milestones that has stuck as a reminder to me of just how close we are to the other end of things – fewer years ahead of the intense, time-together, days filled with each other than there are behind. Perhaps, because he is the last of my children, I feel the sting of days gone by more sharply. I find myself in a questioning place… What is my role here? How do I contribute now?
I am handing over the keys. I am riding in the passenger seat. I will soon be standing outside the car, waving as he drives away. Knowing. Trusting. Believing that he will master any surprises on his own road, in his own way. That has been the point all along, after all.
Today, he did not ask directions to our destination, and I did not offer. He took a new road, one different from our usual path, and he got us there all the same.