I belong to a homeschooling online group. One of the mothers recently opened up to the group about how miserable she feels homeschooling her kids. There was an outpouring of support, ideas and suggestions. While there were a few voices mildly telling her that maybe this is not the best situation, overall, there was encouragement to continue.
I sensed a lot of emotion and anguish in the original comment. It seemed to go beyond "I am having a really bad day". It seemed more along the lines of "Why are my kids not doing what I expect them to do, and what I think all the other kids are doing?", which was equated with the mother doing something wrong. I got thinking about that one, and here are a few of my musings on the topic.
One caveat, though: I will be honest. You might not like this, because it is not feel-good topic. You might think less of me as a parent or teacher or a person, but it is important for it to be out there.
It starts with us, people, and more specifically, women, to be conditioned to outside positive reinforcement. I am only doing a good job if someone whom I deem superior to me acknowledge that I am doing a good job. I only consider it to be a good job if it is quantifiable and measurable, and worthy of recognition. If there is no positive feedback, then it does not count. If there is no financial gain, nothing of substance occured. Moreover, even if I tried and think I did a good job, if a person of authority says that it is not good, it MUST be not good. In homeschooling, a lot of learning takes place in a casual environment. A lot of it is incremental. My kid did not throw a tantrum about unloading a dishwasher! My kid proceeded with an assignment without whining! My kid asked a really good question to which I had no answer! And all these moments happened privately. Hopefully, I will remember to share them with my husband. Maybe I will remember to post them here. Possibly they will resurface as an anecdote later on. But to local day school teacher, inquiring how your kids are doing and whether you started on mishnayot/long division/persuasive writing, these little moments do not mean much. So you do not get that pat on the back. Same goes for family members, who were probably not homeschooled and are judging the kids by their own standards. This constant lack of positive reinforcement can wear people down. I find that sometimes it is nice to be doing my own thing and not interact too much with others. Then I am not stuck in "while we are doing X, they moved on to Y".
Secondly, there is bombardment of educational opportunities which are not taken. When the child is in school, someone else decides to use this curriculum instead of that, go on these field trips instead of those, and enrich the classroom in this specific way. When you are at home, your inbox is constantly buzzing with offers of yet another amazing book/curriculum/educational opportunity/online game/etc. Then you talk to others, and hear how this kid is doing this extracurricular, and that kid is doing that, and, all of a sudden, you worry that you did not pick enough activities for your kids. For most homeschoolers I know, money becomes an issue very quickly, so soon not only you are feeling bad for depriving your kid, you also feel bad for not having a fortune.
Another huge factor is the little lies we, homeschoolers, perpetuate. You read some descriptions and picture this: it is early morning, all the kids are dressed and had breakfast of organic nutritious food, cleaned up, davened, and are sitting down quietly working in their books while the mother is walking around, checking their work. The toddlers are playing with blocks, the newborn is sleeping, there is laundry churning and a nutritious dinner is simmering in the crockpot. Not an object is out of place, and there are gentle sun rays illuminating the whole scene of serenity and pure joy of learning...
Why don't we tell it like it is? Why don't we write: today I had to wake two kids because we had to be somewhere at 9 am, and they refused to get breakfast. I was accused of being mean for making them get dressed, they sulked while we we out, said that the whole day is going down the drain and I yelled at them, and then the toddler cracked a whole jar of tomato sauce while one of kids tackled another. Meanwhile the wonderful activity that I prepared the night before did not hold anyone's interest. One kid called it stupid and another simply walked away. Next thing I know, it is 4:30, the toddler is eating leftover breakfast and I have no idea what to serve for dinner. And the voice in my head says: if they were in school, they would have learned so much more today and I would have had time to make dinner. Bad mommy! Bad!
Then your mother calls and tells you that you are being too sensitive and impatient. Then your husband comes home, after you somehow wrested everyone in bed and asks what you did all day and why the living room looks like a war zone and did you mail that letter?
Then you lose it and yell and cry. Maybe at the kid who is still up. Maybe at your mother. Maybe at your husband. And then you feel that you will get into a car and drive somewhere, anywhere, just to get away. This very much looks like a failure from all sides: the kids were not taught, the house was not maintained, the shalom bait was not preserved... and then some well-meaning individual will tell you that you need to make time for yourself, and that's why you are losing your sanity.
It's probably raining, too, and even if you wanted to take time for yourself, where are you going to go? Do your nails at 9:30 pm? Go to a bar? Find a 24-hour grocery store and walk up and down the aisles to buy something, anything, just to be distracted?
So, my homeschooling sistas, while being positive is wonderful, we are doing a disservice to each other by withholding a truth instead of telling it like it is. Next time you write about this great craft idea, write EXACTLY how it went with your kids. Write down if there was another adult entertaining the younger ones while you worked with the olders. Write about that housekeeper that whisks a baby away at the sign of fussiness and makes the house spotless. Write down about your husband coming home early so you do not have to worry about serving dinner, clean-up, bath time and bedtime. Write down about the squabbles that kids get into, whether with you, or with each other. Write down about generous family members underwriting house cleaners, camps, extracurriculars and supplies. Write down how you ignored one kid to finish your craft project.
Tell it like it is.
And tell about those small triumphs, like the hour when nobody yelled. Others will appreciate it.