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.

16 Responses to “What’s love got to do with it?”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful reminder! Yes, I agree…love is the key reason why we homeschool. This comes at great timing, since lately my 12 yo son has been acting the same way and has been asking me to go to PS. Lately we have been just putting the academic stuff aside for a couple of hours now and then and just play board games or card games (and they are actually reinforcing their math/life skills at the same time). I see the joy they have of being at home with their family when we do fun stuff together like this! Now my son says “Mom, can we play Nertz together? It’s educational?” I can’t help but to smile when he does that!

    I always enjoy getting the boost I need from visiting your blog Julie, thank you so much for helping keep things in perspective.

  2. Anne says:

    Beautiful! I’d write more, but I realize it’s more important that I go snuggle with my 11 year old!

  3. JoVE says:

    Great post. What always strikes me about responses like those you quote is the extent to which folks think that life sucks and there is nothing they can do about it. They seem to be teaching their kids that fulfilling work isn’t even worth aiming for; that if something isn’t going well, there is no point even trying to change things. And then we wonder about the source of political apathy, teenage suicide rates, and increasing rates of depression. Sheesh.

  4. Sandra says:

    Beautiful post, Julie. It’s the inspirational ones like this that I keep coming back for.

  5. Julie Bogart says:

    JoVE, I have the same feeling. It’s interesting to me that adults are willing to settle for lives that leave them unhappy, exhausted and duty-bound. I realize that sometimes the demands of finances mean that we do have to “buck up” and work in order to put food on the table. At the same time, I know that when my husband and I were in that situation (where we were poor, on one income and husband not liking his work) we redoubled our efforts to inject some joy into our lives to relieve that pressure.

    We went to the mountains, we watched videos, we drove to the beach in the evenings to get out, we played cards, we took walks. Life is more than struggle and I hope we want our kids to discover the same. Struggle is easier borne, too, if there is some apparent silver lining and sympathy for our efforts as well.

  6. Amy Madtson says:

    What a great post, and reminder!
    Somehow when I pop on to see what you have written it always relates to what is going on in our family. Funny how that happens! 🙂

    My youngest ds (12 1/2) is actually dreading turning 13 in a few months…he says he doesn’t want to become a teenager…lately he is constantly asking me to do things with him and complains over the simplist assignments I give him…I worry that I’m being too relaxed in our homeschooling, but now I wonder if I’m just being too busy to be available. Tomorrow we will incorporate teatime…first we’ll make a goodie to go with our tea (or cocoa) and then read Martin Luther King’s speech or perhaps some poems.

    Thanks for the encouragement you continue to provide to us sometimes worn-out, too-busy moms.

  7. Anna says:

    Oh Julie! What a joy, as always, to read your perspective. Thank you so much for pulling together this post and giving us your thoughtful insights too.

    My daughter has gone through the same thing (and to a degree still is). With your insights about this time last year, I found the courage to back off from the strictures of education and emphasise that she was more important than the “education”. My stance horrified many, but it has borne good fruit. She said to me the other day that she really likes who she is now – and a year ago, that was my greatest desire.

    To a degree, I can understand where some of the tougher replies that you quote are coming from – sometimes love must be tough. When the rubber meets the road, though, it’s always about knowing your child, and figuring out what will be the best for them long-term. Forsaking my nice, neatly-packaged perceptions of home education and hugging my daughter and talking with her has done more for her than anything else could have, and I’m so glad I allowed myself to release my pr-conceived ideas and “go with it”.

    After talking with many, many mothers of teens, I suspect that as you wrote during 2007 about home educating teens, that this “difficult” phase is part of their development. I see it as a time for parents to let go, but stand really close while the teens learn to handle the reins of their own life for themselves.

    Thank you for all your inspiration and encouragement. You are helping so many of us to see good fruit yielded in our beloved offspring.

  8. Dana says:

    These boards can be tough. I think most of it is because you have a sort of limited sense that the other people are “real.” You are just looking at situations as an objective observer. I doubt any of the people involved would say those things in those ways if they were chatting over coffee in their own home.

    I’ve received some of it, but learned quickly that it really isn’t the best place to air frustrations.

  9. Julie Bogart says:

    Amy, I have a son who cried when he turned 10, sad that his days at McDonald’s playlands would soon be over. I have a daughter who at 13 undulated in her ability to buckle down and work (though she is the hardest of workers now) and the need to just do nothing (I’m sure so much of that year was hormonal). I have another child who couldn’t face daily work at the table *until* he hit thirteen. Now he’s the one who is clicking along, happy to do what he needs to do, reminding me each day of what those daily assignments are.

    What feels big one day, one month, one year often transforms itself with a little love, time and help. It’s easy to forget, too, that this is the first (and only!) time these kids go through their childhoods. They aren’t always good at expressing their needs. They tend to express feelings instead. Tomorrow, I’m going to write a bit about how to translate their language of emotion into what it means about what they need.

  10. Jewel says:

    Wow Julie! Thank you for so clearly voicing my philosophy, and thank you for reminding me of it at this moment!

  11. Rhonda says:

    Just beautiful, Julie. I have an 11 yr old who has a terrible time getting schoolwork done. Even though a lot of his problems are beyond his control (Asperger’s), I still react with frustration and anger at times. I needed this, and I cannot wait for Wednesday’s post!

  12. Penny says:

    Amazing post – can’t wait for Wednesday!

    I hope you also post the reply to the person who asked the question, sounds like she (and her son) could use a little compassion themselves…

    I just recently had a breakthrough moment (sometimes I’m a little thick LOL) where I realized I had completely lost track of the idea that homeschool was about HOME more than *school* – those boards had completely brainwashed me!

    Lucky for me, there are people like you posting words like these and teatime recipes to keep me on track!

    Awesome, awesome post. Thank you again…

  13. Nancy Connolly says:

    Love, Love and more Love. Those are the instructions that every child comes with and God wrote them right onto your heart!

  14. Jodi says:

    This is why we love you and the Bravewriter philosophy so much. Thank you for that.

    You are appreciated!

  15. Ramae says:


    You are a true Godsend for our family. I simply don’t know how I would survive home schooling without your wonderful Writer’s Jungle and especially your thoughts and perspective on children, home schooling, life and love.

    I pick up the Writer’s Jungle and read your blog to not only find new writing ideas, but also to pick up some positive, loving energy. What a difference you have made!

    Thanks so much!

  16. Michelle says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this! I could see myself making some of the harsh recommendations you mentioned…this was the eye-opener I needed. Children are people, too, and deserve as much compassion as adults. I will re-read this post weekly to remind myself. I’m also planning to post a link to it on my blog. Again, thank you.