If you can learn to look beyond the chaos, your family can survive homeschooling and realize the sweet return on your investment.
Go to any homeschooling website and you’ll probably find it—a photograph of a homeschooling family, parent and child smiling sweetly at each other, lost in the love of learning. If you’re a new mother with an infant sleeping peacefully nearby, you might immediately start superimposing the faces of you and your little angel onto the image as you dream of the future. If you’re a veteran homeschooler, however, you might find yourself trying to remember the last time your family looked even remotely like that. No matter where you are in the homeschooling journey, from just thinking about it to being deep in the trenches, it’s important to remember that homeschooling rarely resembles the photos on the websites. Homeschooling often involves mess: messy living spaces, messy schedules, and messy relationships.
I grew up as the oldest of seven children in a house with 2½ bedrooms and one bath. My father was a construction worker, and my mother stayed at home. With a tight budget, my mother hung onto everything, which made our little home feel even smaller. When I became an adult, I was determined that I was never going to have kids, and I was never going to have a home that was cluttered and chaotic. Of course, God knew better. I ended up having four children of my own, living in a city where private school was out of our price range and public school was out of the question. As we transitioned from day care into the brave new world of homeschooling, I suddenly realized that my children would now be around pretty much 24/7, which meant that they would rarely be out of the house long enough for me to make it presentable. It took more than a few tears, conflicts, and adjustments before I came to terms with mess of the homeschooling lifestyle. Here are the three biggest lessons that I learned as I worked through the process:
Focus on What’s Important
Perhaps you’ve seen this last stanza from Ruth Hulburt Hamilton’s famous poem, “Song for a Fifth Child”:
Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep.
The idea behind this poem is the same as the one behind our house rule: “People before things, and principles before property.” In our case, it might very well mean leaving a pile of unsorted laundry to read a story, trekking into the woods for some “real life” science, or rescheduling the school day to take a meal to a sick neighbor. The satisfaction of knowing you have done something purposeful and meaningful, perhaps even with eternal value, will help you realize that any mess or chaos left in the wake was well worth it.
Set Reasonable Expectations
At first I was going to entitle this section, “Lower your expectations,” but then I realized that the expectations you set will be based on what you deem to be important. For example, if teaching your child to be careful and conscientious is important, you will set a high expectation for any assignment that is turned in. However, having a spotless bathroom on a daily basis may be an expectation that needs to be lowered. As an example, it was important for me that my children have experience with all kinds of art, including paint and clay, but those activities could only be done on Friday afternoons and only within established parameters (such as covering the area with newspaper and wearing smocks). I knew that our sessions would be messy (and they were), but having realistic expectations for both myself and my children helped make it manageable.
Cultivate a Positive Attitude
There we were—watching the rain as it continued to fall for yet another day. So much for our fun vacation! It seemed like all I was doing was trying to keep the kids from going stir-crazy, the camper relatively mud-free, and myself from the brink of despair. I had taken a moment to tend to the baby when suddenly I heard squeals of laughter from outside the camper. I looked out to see my husband and children in their bathing suits, sliding and swimming in the mud and having the time of their lives. This was a deciding moment. I could continue off the cliff and fall headlong into the self-pity, anger, and frustration, or I could choose to enjoy the sight of my family determined to have fun despite the weather. I am thankful now to say that I chose the latter. Choosing to look on the sunny side—even to see the humor in the situation—can be a wonderful way to “weather” the mess and the chaos of life.
There is no way around it; life is messy, and homeschooling is life up close and personal. It is my hope that it won’t take you as long as it took me to accept this fact. Focus on what’s important, set reasonable expectations, cultivate a positive attitude, and embrace this wonderful mess called homeschooling.
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