What’s love got to do with it?
I surf homeschooling discussion forums to keep up with the latest burning questions mothers have about writing, about homeschooling, about how to keep soul and body together while attending to the endless, legitimate demands of babies, small children and teens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I found a discussion not too long ago that I’ve wanted to share here. I’m paraphrasing the post so as to protect both the discussion board (well-known) and the original poster (who struck me as an entirely good mother, just depleted beyond her own resources).
My 12 year old son told me he hates homeschool. I’ve organized his work so that he really doesn’t have that much to do. He writes narrations for his novel, history and science, but I rotate these so he doesn’t have to do them all every day. He has a couple of pages of math on top of these. He is reading two books (one for history and one for literature) and we work through grammar daily. I even dropped spelling and now give him a break in the mornings so he doesn’t have to work straight through to lunch. If he would just sit down and do his work, he’d easily be done before lunch. Instead, he dawdles, doodles, complains, plays with the dog, gets up to go to the bathroom. He won’t just work straight through.
I feel terrible. I keep telling him he has to have an education, that the law requires it, that I have tried to be lenient. But when I see him so miserable, I feel so badly. I cried over my soup the other day at lunch. I thought homeschooling was supposed to be a happy time of learning. It’s not in our house. What would you do?
The responses were startling, to say the least. Before I read them, I wanted to offer hugs, hot tea, and chocolate. I wanted to tell this sweet mom to get out of the house and take the whole family to see the Disney film “Enchanted.” I also had a few other thoughts, but I made the mistake of perusing the collection of replies to her cry for help which blew me away. Here are some nuggets taken from that threaded discussion (again paraphrased):
- My husband gets up and goes to work every day. He doesn’t necessarily like his job, but he does it without complaining. Your son needs to be reminded that life isn’t all fun and games and that like his father, it’s his job to do his schoolwork even if he’s unhappy about it.
- I used to feel badly when my older three complained about school. Now that we’ve been at it for awhile, I no longer feel sad when they tell me they hate it. It’s not my job to make them happy. It’s my job to give them an education. They have the choice to be happy or not.
- You need to tell him that his playing on the computer or gaming time will be related to his attitude in how he does his work. If he complains, he gets less time for entertainment. My kids shaped right up when they knew their leisure time was at risk.
- Walk out of the room. Tell him that you will be happy to help him with school if he has a good attitude. If not, you will leave him to himself.
- Give him more work. Perhaps he’ll see that he had it pretty easy and will then appreciate what you’ve done for him.
The glaring omission in all of these replies: compassion. And while a couple of moms tried to insert a little of that gentler perspective into the discussion, there was no room for it. The louder, more forceful attitude offered to this mom: Don’t let your child’s unhappiness bug you. It’s his fault, not yours. Buck up, keep going and punish or reward him accordingly.
My oh my! I fantasized about this set of interactions but in a different context. How might it work if this were the situation?
Honey, I’m miserable. My life is overfull of commitments. I’ve got two sick kids, housework, meals to plan and prepare, the homeschooling to get done, soccer practice and dance rehearsals to take the other two kids to and the co-op class to design and teach. I’m exhausted, unhappy, and sick of being an at-home mom this week. I wish I could take a break.
What if your husband’s reply was something like this:
You knew when you had children that you would have hard days. You can choose to be cheerful about it. And if you didn’t spend time on the computer chatting to friends, you’d have more time to do the laundry and make good meals. Plus, who do you think is going to pick up your slack? Me? I’ve got a fulltime job. These kids need you, I need you and you just have to keep going. Anyway, I’m not interested in your feelings any more. When you have a good attitude, you can talk to me. Until then, I’m watching basketball.
A marriage like that leads pretty quickly to misery and divorce papers.
Love is the key ingredient to your homeschool. Not education, not requirements, not schedules, not curricula. You homeschool because you love the little human beings who hang with you all day, every day. You could toss them into school and have your days free. You could hire out the subjects to tutors (not a bad idea, if there is a subject you can’t teach) to avoid dealing with the struggle to learn that some kids go through. Instead, you have this “foolish” notion that you can do a better job not because you are more equipped, more prepared, more able. You do it because you know you love your kids better than anyone else.
That’s your secret ingredient, your secret weapon. When confronted with boredom, tears, unadulterated loathing, your job isn’t to will it away, hate on it back or ignore it. Your job is to enfold the child into your arms, accept that homeschool “sucks” for him right now and then shut up and listen. Ask good questions, brainstorm solutions, take a break, get out of the house, put away the math/writing/history for awhile, play a board game, make tea and eat scones, redecorate a bedroom…. change it up, become the source of shining love that your child depends on you to be.
Education is not the most important part of homeschooling. Love is.
Love has everything to do with it.
On Wednesday, I’ll post a blog entry that is devoted to the idea of listening, empathy and flexibility that will help you put your love into practical action steps.