Homeschooling isn’t always easy, but you’re probably doing a better job than you give yourself credit for.
Loneliness isn’t something we talk about, but maybe it should be. If you’re feeling isolated, depressed, irritable, or just plain sad, loneliness might be to blame. Here’s how to understand why you feel so alone sometimes — and how to make the slow-but-steady connections that can help end your solitary confinement.
Over the past eleven years, I've encountered many moments when my kids would not do what I wanted them to do. *insert laugh track* Does that sound familiar? Parenting can be wonderful, but it's also an endlessly bumpy road fraught with wondering and second-guessing.
Fortunately, I've picked up on a few observations about my kids that have helped me. I still face challenges sometimes, but since I have two awesome boys, either these things have helped, or I'm just very lucky.
Every child and family is different, so maybe these tips won't help everybody, but I offer them in case they will. I hope you’ll leave your own tips in the comments area.
I've learned that to get my boys to do the things I would like for them to do, I first need to:
- Examine my agenda. Is this for me and my ego, or is it really necessary for them to live a good life?
- Be explicit. I always have a good reason why I want them to behave a certain way, and I try to explain myself in language they can understand. However, very young kids don’t always understand reason, so I try not to over-explain either. Sometimes I just need to use a firm no. (See last point.)
- If it’s safe, non-destructive, and not bothering other people, let them do what they want to do. Usually, what they want to do is harmless and won't wreck my day. I find that the kids respect my wishes more, if I give them as much freedom as possible.
- Include them in planning. When it comes to the simple daily routine and planning, I seek their input and respect their opinion on what they want to do. This doesn’t mean I’ll always do what they want, but occasionally I’ve been known to go with their ideas instead of mine.
- Keep a regular routine. Until I had kids, I never knew how important a routine could be. My kids know what to expect and when. They complain less about the things they dislike because they know it lasts only so long, and they also know that their “fun time” will be coming regularly. They don’t need to ask for more because their day is filled with a variety of activities, and they always know it’ll be coming around again the next day.
- Do it myself. If it's something like cleaning the house or being polite to other people, then I have to be a role model before I ask them to help or explain why it’s a good idea. If it's something like getting my child to paint, or sew, or learn any new skill, then I should sit down and try doing it myself without worrying about whether they will join me. Kids often want to do what their parents are doing, but if they don't, I know this might not be for them, and that’s okay. They are still benefitting by watching me struggle to improve my skills.
- If it's something like learning math, then again, I should be willing to do it with them, and I need to pay close attention to them. Are they not developmentally ready for it, or are they capable, but they don't like it? Waiting a year or two can make a big difference. And if they don't like it, letting them know that they only have to do, say, 15 minutes a day works wonders.
- If it's something like getting them to take medicine that will save their life, then if I have done all the above, my child will know that when I'm non-negotiating, it's for a good reason, and they better obey me.
- Be firm. Similarly, when I say NO, I should mean no. (This takes practice.) I also need to watch my voice. A deeper, authoritative voice works much better than a soft, sing-songy voice. I can almost always tell when a mom is going to cave in on her “no” by the voice she is using — kids know, too!
What have you learned about your kids that make a big difference in your day?
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.
A few weeks ago I gently ripped open a little paper packet, tipped some seeds into my hand and dropped them into the earth in an even line. Using the flat of my palm to pull some soil across the row, I breathed in the sweet smell of dirt, bathed in birdsong and allowed the sun to drape itself across my shoulders like a familiar shawl. In a few moments, the children came tearing out into the garden, rolling over each other like a pair of lion cubs, tugging at each other’s ears, pressing their thumbs into the other’s arm pits, cackling wildly. Soon the youngest was in tears, as red in the face as the radishes I’d just sown. Their play-fighting had inevitably, painfully, turned into real fighting.
It was time to stop parting the earth and start parting the children. No longer could I crouch and sow, pushing aside worms and soil. Sighing deeply and brushing the dirt from my hands, it was time to return to the other ‘dirt’ of my life—the sweet and fertile soil of being with my children all day, every day, with all the laughter and tears that brings.
In the UK, homeschooling is still very much a novelty: it’s something unusual and special. There are only two homeschooling families in my town, and at home ed meet-ups we see the same faces, the same handful of families who are striking out on this uniquely less-trodden path. When I tell other people we meet that my children are home educated, their eyes fill with wonder and they usually breathe, “That sounds hard.”
Maybe they think I’m ringing a bell in the morning and teaching my children subject after subject of material I haven’t seen since my own days in primary school. Maybe they’re wondering how I manage to teach two children of such different age and ability. Maybe they can’t figure out how I can stand being with my children all the time. In their eyes I can see what they’re thinking: I must be incredibly patient, intelligent, even martyr-like. I must be able to do things and maybe I even know things that they don’t know. I must somehow be special.
Yes, being with children all day is demanding. The intensity of being forever on call, available, responsible is tiring. In some ways, things were easier when my older children trotted off to school and I could canoodle with my baby. But I missed my children; oh how I missed them. When they came home with their tales of playground pettiness and teacherly impatience, I’d suffer and seethe with indignation and impotence. Now that we are homeschooling the responsibility firmly resides with us. I prefer it that way.
Yesterday my youngest child and I tipped his little troop of caterpillars into a tray and sat side by side with our chins resting in our hands. We watched them wiggle about and crawl over the leaves. My nine year old, reciting her seven times table under her breath, stopped to watch the caterpillars too. “Wow, those are amazing,” she said.
“I know,” my son replied with shining eyes, resting his cool hand on the back of my neck. “They’re so beautiful I can hardly resist them!” Then he made two little fists and squealed in a way that made my tummy cartwheel.
I’m no martyr. Being with my children, taking responsibility for their education, guiding them into a life of contentment: it’s what I choose and enjoy. That’s not to say it’s easy. But it’s definitely something special.