Our Lady of Mt.Carmel, pray for us!
This article from the Spring/Summer 1995 issue of
The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine
Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved
Article by Tim and Marianna Bartold
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After the usual inquiries on socialization, testing, and all those kind of questions, sooner or later the homeschooling parent will hear....
"I have a life of my own. I could never sacrifice myself like you do."
"I really admire you...giving up your own life just to homeschool."
"Are you going to homeschool the others, too?"
"I suppose what you're doing might be good for your family. But we feel that our children can be good examples to their classmates and friends."
Do any of these remarks sound familiar? Do they make you want to laugh? scream? cry? For anybody who has taught their children at home for any length of time, these comments are part and parcel of homeschooling territory. Not only that, but they're also difficult to answer. If you try to explain (not to mention defend) your position, you're either going to make yourself look like an early Christian martyr, or you're going to make the commenting person look like a selfish beast who doesn't care enough about their kids to home educate them! Granted, some of these comments or questions are made sincerely. After some experience, those kinds of inquiries can be handled with relative ease. But many times, they are made with a certain tone to them, which makes you automatically understand that you are being challenged.
To be polite, your smile...or try to make some unassuming remark that you feel homeschooling is right for your family, but you don't force the idea on anyone...or you bite your tongue so hard behind your pearly whites that you find dents in it later. After you're alone, you find yourself writhing over the fact that you didn't know what to say to straighten out the challenger.
Caustic answers come to you at 3 am. that night. To the first comment, your reply could have been, "Time to do what? Have lunch with the girls? Go shopping? Take a Calgon bath? Polish my nails? Watch the soaps? Those things are transitory. We care about our children. That's why we homeschool." But, no...that would be downright uncharitable, not to mention rude and judgmental. (Besides, we know it's not true that moms who don't homeschool just sit around and eat bon-bons all day. But wouldn't it be nice if they tried to look at our side?)
To the second remark, a short and terse comeback of "I believe that" would be distasteful and low. As for the third comment, a simple question of "Why? What kind of exciting life are you leading?" would very likely start a fight.
With the next question, perhaps you could have said, "No. The ones I'm homeschooling now are my favorites. I don't really care about the others."
And with the last extremely patronizing dig, it's very tempting to say, "If your children are such paragons of virtue, why don't you homeschool them, then? They'll obviously become saints in a short time" or "I believe you either have a problem with facing reality...or a bad case of pride." But that would probably start WWIII.
Oooooooh, temptation! Get thee behind me, Satan! This is the perfect time to pray the "Our Father," asking the good Lord above for the graces you need so as not to fall into the temptation of answering sarcastically, to ask for the virtue of charity, and to be forgiving. It is true that this can be very difficult to do both in praying it and meaning it. But, after all, we know the path to Heaven is a narrow one!
It doesn't usually help you handle the situation gracefully when these remarks usually come from nowhere, during a normal conversation, with (hopefully) no instigation on your part whatsoever. After all, you didn't get up on a soapbox to publicly declare all your children's virtues, did you? (I strongly recommend that, even if strongly tempted, you don't do so. It's what the British call "bad form.")
So, what do you, as Catholic parents exercising your God-given rights to educate your children as you see fit, say to these judgmental innuendos? Do you stay silent? Do you fight back? Do you try to stay calm and gently answer? Do you memorize some papal encyclicals that back up your position?
I can honestly say that I've tried all of those approaches...and they won't work with people who may have an axe to grind. However, as time goes by, those people who really are trying to understand the concept begin to accept the fact that you're serious about home education. Some do actually get a nicer attitude about the whole thing. And that certainly leaves you with a much more comfortable feeling that the pretty butterflies that like to flutter through the tummy when these situations arise. It's the die-hards who, for reasons unknown to you, have some prejudice against the whole idea of homeschooling and constantly bring up the subject whenever they get the chance. It's this type of repeat scenario that can get you to thrust out your jaw in a stubborn stance....or make it tremble with emotion.
The crux of the matter is - you don't have to defend yourself from these remarks. What you do have to defend yourself from is - yourself.
These comments are little seeds of doubt being planted in your mind. When difficult days come to you (and they will), the ghosts of these conversations come back to haunt you. You'll ask yourself, "Why am doing this? I don't need the hassle! I don't have the time for this! I've got a house to clean...and maybe it would stay clean if the kids weren't underfoot every blessed minute of the day!"
You'll begin to think your sacrifice is, indeed, in vain, when the children are squabbling with each other and complaining "I can't do this, Mom! It's tooooo hard!,"
the water heater (or the furnace, or the washer - take your pick) just broke, the baby is crying, the phone is ringing off the hook, someone's at the door, something just crashed in the next room amidst more wails...and the schooling is sliding right down the drain. You finally lose control and shout, "Don't you kids realize everything I'm trying to do is for you? Now SIT DOWN!" And then you wonder, "What am I sacrificing myself for? What about my life? Is this all there is?"
There are instances when the head of the family isn't too sure about his feelings toward home education and has only agreed to a one-year trial. This type of situation can put awful pressure on the wife who is afraid to approach her husband for assistance when she's having difficult days. If there is going to be a fair trial period, the husband needs to be supportive and helpful. He must realize that his doubtful attitude could sabotage the entire experiment and doom it to failure. He can and should be open and willing to discuss the challenges his wife will face, and help her (not dictate) in setting up a schedule, as well as checking at lest some of the children's work and their attitudes. Even though he may work long hours, his assistance could be in the form of a simple half-hour discussion with the children (perhaps after returning home), while looking over their papers. Most importantly, he must realize that, though his wife will be carrying the main job of teaching, he also is a primary educator of their children. The role of parenthood (and all that goes with it) is not just his wife's.
Perhaps you've allowed your children out to play for the afternoon. A terrible fight among the neighborhood children erupts and you're pulled in as mediator/referee again. You can see that, in this instance, your children really are being taken advantage of, but you're trying to be fair to everyone involved. Another parent comes along to say, "Well, we know you homeschool and probably don't want to hear this, but your children do need to learn to be a bit more savvy. Your kids are just too innocent." Your mouth drops open at this type of attitude, so you quip, "Do you mean they should be savvy...or street-wise?" After seeing your daughter's tears coursing down her cheeks, or your son's bruised face, you're tempted to agree that maybe they are too innocent - they're going to have to face the real world sometime. Perhaps they should go back to "real" school.
In this case, you have a few things to consider. You can either let your kids keep getting the stuffing knocked out of them, you can have all the kids in the neighborhood in you house all the time, you can severely restrict who plays with who - or you can put your kids back into school so they'll learn how to "handle" themselves. Not one of these options is attractive, in the least, but what else can you do? You're trying to face the fact that your children have to grow up sometime - right?
Wrong! Did you force your child to walk when his legs and back weren't strong enough? Or would you teach your child to swim by throwing him in the ocean? Well, that's what you'll be doing if you give in by putting your children back into a school that you know could hurt them spiritually and physically. They wouldn't be ready for the attacks against their souls, consciences, and morals. That's what you'll be doing if you let your children play with others who are abusive to them and are allowed to get away with it. Children have a very keen sense of what is fair and what isn't - and they wouldn't understand what was happening to them or why you've allowed it.
If you think the situation is bad now, it will only get worse if you give in to this trap.
But do you see what is really happening? We are living in one of the most critical times in the history of the world, and so....you are being tempted to give up on your vocation.
I personally believe it is the mother - the heart of the home - who is assailed with these doubts and temptations. Fathers experience them, too, but I have personally seen that in most cases, it is the mother. Her burden is heavier, so if she feels her steadfastness and courage slipping, the heart of the home should appeal to the head of the home for his love, prayers, and support. Spouses are meant to carry each other's burdens, and help each other get to heave. Together, the couple must help their children get to heaven.
We'd all like to think, believe, and hope that our children would be good examples to others. It's not something to bet on too heavily. That is why it is best to turn a deaf ear to those who suggest, through questioning or innuendo, that you are homeschooling because your children aren't strong enough to handle conventional school. The implication is that your children couldn't possibly be good examples to others, but, of course, theirs are. I've learned that people who truly are good examples aren't even aware of the fact - and certainly wouldn't boast about it. If we start thinking we're good examples, the sin of pride is lurking in the background somewhere. If we had true humility, the thought wouldn't even pass through our heads.
As for the children, there is truth in the old adage, "one bad apple spoils the whole bunch." Your child's soul is much too precious to take the chance of exposing it to such dangers like relentless, unkind companions or even worse - schools that subvert the Faith. That's the right way to look at the situation. You and your spouse, with the graces God will give you through the Sacrament of Matrimony, are the best judges of what is good and right for your children.
We want our children to willingly practice the two greatest Commandments of the Church: "Love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, thy whole mind, thy whole soul, and thy whole strength" and "Love they neighbor as thyself." We want our children to willingly obey the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, practice all the virtues, and grow in grace. But they are only children yet....and it can take a lifetime to become a saint. Most children are not a Jacinta or Francisco Marto or a St. Dominic Savio, who were given an abundance of graces to become saints at so young an age. Our children, like us, are weakened by Original Sin. They must be lovingly and firmly guided, yet given some freedom to grow. If we have been called to teach our children through home education, then that is what we must do. It is not for others to judge what our family must do, just as we cannot judge others who are not homeschooling.
The idea of homeschooling is very exciting at first. In many ways, it can be compared to babies. When a baby is on the way, first-time parents (especially the mother) are usually very excited, yet scared. There are so many questions and matters to consider, now that a new person is going to join the family. The mother-to-be, in particular, anticipates the birth with joy and trepidation. After the baby is born, she is thrilled, glowing, and on Cloud Nine because the little one has arrived...and she and her husband think the hard part is behind them. They have lots to learn.
The new mom and dad don't know yet about the demands of crying babies, endless diapers, all night feedings, or the diaper bag that will become the absolute necessity when even thinking about walking out the door. And, of course, there's all that well-meaning advice or suggestions from family, friends, and even strangers (sometimes in the form of questions) that can drive a new parent to distraction. The little happinesses that babies bring with their first coo, gurgle, and smile of recognition can be easily forgotten. If parents let it, the demands of caring for the baby will overshadow the joy of having the baby. They've forgotten the thrill and privilege of loving and caring for the little one God has given them and think only about the work involved.
Homeschooling is very similar. When the idea of homeschooling is first conceived by the parents, the thought might be thrilling, although there are a few concerns. There are questions and matters to consider. The leap is finally made - curriculum has been chose, the hard questions have been answered, and there is excitement mingled with a little nervousness. After the family is committed, they think the hard part is over. They have lots to learn, too.
The new (and experienced) homeschooling family has to learn to deal with children who whine, cry, and complain, don't seem to be learning anything, endless lesson plans, constant interruptions, and packing up all the kids (and that old diaper bag for the newest baby) before they can even think about walking out the door to do a simple errand. Like first-time parents, they'll get well-meaning advice, suggestions, and questions that will drive them wild. If they let it, the demands of teaching the children at home will overshadow the joys of being with the children for the very short time they have them.
Homeschooling is like belief in God. To paraphrase a wonderful saying, "For those who believe (in home education), no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation will suffice."
God gives us free will. That has always been His gift to us. Others may mean well (and hopefully they do) when they make all those comments or ask all those questions. But God's will for your family may very well not be the same as His Will for another family. Home schooling is your option....perhaps even your obligation. But God will allow you to use your free will to decide whether or not to follow His Will for your family.
As I read once, "God is a gentleman. He knocks, but never forces His way in." If you are homeschooling, or the thought is in your heart, God may be knocking. Don't let others, however well meaning or even critical, sway you from opening the door - or from keeping it open.
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