Running a household frugally and efficiently on one income takes creativity and commitment, but the family benefits when a parent is dedicated to overseeing the emotional, educational, and physical needs of the children.
However, the parent who stays home may have some doubts about what being a stay-at-home parent will cost them personally.
It’s common for a mom to be the one who stays home or does the majority of the teaching. That’s been my situation for many years, so I’m going to address the issues I’ve dealt with because of that choice.
- My own education and career
- What it means to be a whole person
- What my family would see in me
- How I maintain sensible priorities
My education and career
When we made the decision to homeschool, Ken and I were both working full-time at a large mortgage bank. Our son Seth had just started first grade at a private religious school, but we were unsatisfied with his learning experiences. We had been talking about homeschooling for a long time, and I loved the idea of being my son’s teacher. We finally took the plunge, and I gave notice at work and withdrew Seth from school to begin homeschooling.
I knew at the beginning homeschooling would be a temporary thing. Not that I thought homeschooling was a short term solution; I planned to homeschool until graduation. But that’s just it—eventually kids graduate, and there I’d be, with who knows how many years of homeschooling behind me, and who knows what in my future.
I felt the same pressures most women feel: to be a stay-at-home mom, to have a career, to try to do both. These influences came from family, friends, church, and of course, American culture.
It didn’t take me long to weigh my options and make the choice to focus on my child’s education. I wanted him to have real life experiences, to learn to work mentally and physically at a young age. I believed that socialization skills were obtained by observing those skills in action, receiving guidance, and being able to practice them daily in a variety of situations. I imagined all the days we’d spend reading and talking and going places. Homeschooling sounded like a little bit of Mom Heaven.
I have a degree in education from an unaccredited private religious college, so in a sense, I was going to be using my college education more as a homeschooler than as a legal specialist at a mortgage bank. Others have training and certifications in areas unrelated to education, and they might wonder about the wisdom of stepping off their career path for a time in order to homeschool. I didn’t have quite as much invested in my college education, nor did I feel that particular conflict as strongly as others might.
But I did wonder how I would be continuing my own education and growth as a person while I homeschooled my children.
What it means to be a whole person
What does it mean to be a whole person? I think Paul said it best in Phillippians 4:11, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Although healthy relationships are built on inter-dependency, it comes from a place of being able to find sufficiency in Christ and to a certain degree, in yourself.
I realized after a few years of marriage and motherhood I couldn’t expect others to bear the burden of my expectations and my happiness. I had to take care of myself in order to take care of them. To minister spiritually, I should maintain my own spiritual well-being. I needed to educate myself to provide an education for my child. It was my responsibility to receive and apply the lessons God was trying to teach me. It was my duty to learn to be content.
Although we had made this decision together, and I had the full support of my husband, it was now my duty to know what needed to be done to provide a quality education for our son. To show him how to cope and prosper in the real world, I had to stay open to unfamiliar experiences, keep current on world events, adopt new technologies, and be involved in life outside of our four walls. Along the way, I started to understand that the way I choose to homeschool builds a bridge for our children into their futures.
Even after three more children came along, I kept reading, exploring, and interacting with others in the community, and with the internet, around the world. I tried new hobbies, joined community groups, volunteered in charitable organizations, developed new skills. I started blogging about my experiences while continuing to learn from others. These activities kept me engaged and energized, and in turn, I was a better role model of teaching and learning for my kids.
And more importantly, through good times and bad, I learned about the many ways one can find satisfaction and peace, and what it means to maintain both my integrity and individuality.
What my family would see in me
I’ve seen many homeschool moms dive deep into their role, and dread the day when Homeschool Mom is no longer their identity. Although it might be tempting to disappear into the easy confinement of the stereotypical wife, mother, and homeschooling parent, I knew this wouldn’t be a good example to our kids. In spite of the fact that I’m an introvert, happy to be alone, at home, surrounded by books, my sons and daughter needed to see a woman living a fulfilling life, free to be an individual pursuing her interests, happy to serve the Lord wherever He placed me.
We sometimes don’t realize the wordless messages we send to our kids about the things that are important for a meaningful life. The media tells them beauty, fame, talent, and money are the keys to success and happiness. We need to provide an alternate message that virtues like compassion, courage, generosity, and diligence are of tremendous value, and their treasures should be a more eternal nature. This is the very hard work of parenting-by-example.
If we are caught up in our work, our social life, our hobbies, or a pursuit of wealth, we are showing them where our love is, where we find meaning and joy. Homeschooling itself can become an obsession, considering all that is at stake, and the competitive culture surrounding education in all its forms. The pursuit of our passions is not wrong, but we need to make sure that those passions are truly worthwhile, and in balance with Scriptural priorities.
How I maintain sensible priorities
Family, homeschooling, church, volunteering, job, writing, caring for my mother, caring for myself … how can I keep all these things in balance? How, in the midst of all the things that make up my personal and family life, could I remain objective and make good decisions?
There were several times in my life that I started to feel buried in good things that were keeping me from the best things. I think this is the hardest lesson for a homeschooler to learn, because it all seems good. Every curriculum promises amazing results, every method guarantees a joyful, lifelong learner. Some homeschool gurus imply—or outright declare—that homeschooling will answer all your family’s spiritual needs.
There are about a hundred reasons why these assurances can’t be depended on, so let’s just get to the ways Ken and I maintained perspective.
I must first admit to an obsessive compulsion to possess organizers of all kinds—notebooks, Post-It Notes, wall calendars and charts, apps and online programs—I could pitch a tent in an office supply store and be happy for days. The up side is that I habitually write down my goals and make daily, weekly, and monthly checklists. This keeps me on track and focused when life dumps a thousand gallons of crazy over my head.
As a family, we discuss our goals together and keep the lines of communication open. To maintain sensible priorities when each person in the family has their own needs and desires, it’s imperative that we sustain a clear picture of where we’ve been, where we want to go, and how we plan to get there.
Planning isn’t just for homeschooling, doing chores, and running errands. Ken and I planned daily time and space to ourselves in the morning to stay in touch with each other, discuss personal and family issues, and work out problems.
We even made plans to avoid conflict. A family rule gradually evolved over time, “No serious conversations after 9pm.” In the evening we are tired, our guard is down, and our objectivity becomes more clouded by the minute. We realized at some point that we didn’t seem to accomplish much in the evenings, but our morning talks over coffee were relaxed, enjoyable, and productive. So it became an unwritten rule, and I believe it has protected our relationship over the years, and helped us grow closer in understanding and affection.
I think homeschoolers can be very susceptible to measuring themselves by the lives of others, but we must keep our own priorities. Regardless of how similar our lives may seem, God didn’t use a 3D printer to create people. If I want to be content and clear-headed, I can’t factor in the possessions, talents, resources, and connections of other families when deciding what is best for me and my family. I have to do my best in the time that God has allotted me. And I don’t want to waste a minute of it in covetousness and wishful thinking.
Now that I am near the end of The Raber Homeschool Era, I am looking back without regrets and second guessing. I made mistakes. Big shocker there, right? But it’s what I’ve learned along the way that gives me comfort and strength, and I’m happy to still be learning how to live a happy and fruitful life—and passing the message on to our kids.