Written by Matt Duffy
Edited by Joy Duffy

I was homeschooled my whole life, but my experience was additionally unique in that my mom was heavily involved with the emerging homeschool movement all over the country, blazing the trail that others now are following. Homeschooling, like all choices in life, has ups and downs, requires a great deal of sacrifice, and can be very rewarding. With the retrospect of almost thirty years of distance, and the things my wife and I have experienced in the trenches of parenting and our own homeschooling journey, I have found clarity about my homeschool upbringing, and questions that need to be heard and considered by families who are embarking on this journey.

I could write chapter after chapter about my homeschooling experience: the amazing trips I took, the opportunities that I had, my struggles and triumphs, and our unique family dynamic. But the one aspect that I want to focus on, the one that I feel is so central to nearly every homeschool, and therefore so critical to the outcome of that homeschool, is how homeschooling affects the mother, both in terms of the responsibilities it carries and the effect that it can have on the relationships within the home.

There are certainly homeschools in which the primary teaching is done by the father, and homeschools in which the teaching is shared between the parents, but I believe the most common scenario is one in which the father works outside the home and the mother is “in charge” of the homeschool. For those uninitiated in the complexities of creating a homeschool, the sheer quantity of questions to consider is frankly overwhelming for a family just starting out, and the burden of wading through those choices and making decisions falls heavily on the mother. If you’ve never thought about it, consider: What type of curriculum best suits the needs of your children? Are you comfortable teaching it? How much planning and preparation will it take on a weekly or even daily basis? What happens when all your children have different learning styles? How do you concurrently homeschool different ages? What daily schedule will be the best balance between academics and personal development? Extracurriculars? And where in the world are you going to create space for all of this in your home? All of these questions and many more will occupy a great deal of a mom’s time, in addition to the daily requirements of being a spouse, fostering her friendships, homemaking, housecleaning, social engagements, personal development, and church community involvement. I have rarely heard a mother complain about all of this, but I do often see the weight of it on many of them.

All the decision-making, planning, and executing of the day-to-day demands of the homeschool is a large burden, and one that a mom might feel that she is happy to tackle in order to provide an enriching and nurturing environment for her children, but it is not the only burden that lays upon her with homeschool life. As parents, we carry around a burden for raising our children. Will they “turn out” OK? Will they be competent and functional adults? Our emotional life is very much wrapped up in their well-being and “success”; and the sleepless nights that we spend trying to soothe a newborn are nothing compared to the intensity with which we consider their future, especially as Christians. We are raising our children before Christ, in the sight of the whole world, and we will to some extent hold ourselves accountable for them and to them as long as we are alive. This reality is part of how we are made and not necessarily a bad thing. When we add a homeschool into this burden, how is a mom going to navigate the doubts and fears that come with the launch of her children? However much a father might share that burden of their children’s launch, the self-doubt and worry often dogs the mother to a much greater extent if she has been the primary agent of the homeschool. I have seen many moms plagued by feelings that they were failing their children, even when their family is still quite young. Through the turbulent years of child-raising and in the after-years, will the responsibility of the homeschool bring with it an additional load of emotions that prove to be overwhelming?

I do not mean to suggest that this is a reason to avoid homeschooling, but I want to shed light on a consideration that often goes overlooked when making a decision about how the children will be educated, and the avenues that are pursued in any homeschool. Acknowledging the effect of these decisions on the life and emotional well-being of the mother shows a truer cost of the homeschooling decision, and allows space for those feelings to be shared, validated, and processed by both parents.

Another area that I strongly feel needs to be considered in a likewise manner is how the homeschool will affect the relationships in the home; particularly the relationships between the mother and her children. In a homeschool, a mom takes on the additional role of teacher to her children. When the kids are upset with “mom-the-teacher”, what effect must that have on the “mom-the-mom” relationship? This is what I saw developing between my wife and our oldest child in our own homeschool; and became a catalyst for us overhauling our homeschooling method and our departure from it several years ago.

All mothers are teachers whether they homeschool or not. But in homeschooling, the mom has to become the teacher first in many ways. From waking up until home work is done for the day, the responsibility of being a teacher, by it’s nature, often overwhelms that of being a mother. As a homeschool teacher, the mother is in a position of not just imparting information, but also of continual correction of her children. For my wife, as our daughter struggled with certain subjects in our homeschool, she began to feel as though her entire relationship with our child was based on telling her how she was wrong. As a teacher, it was her duty to correct her when she erred, and push through her resistance to finish difficult material, often calling her back again and again to correct her mistakes. As a mother, she tried to encourage and offer support. But for our daughter, distinguishing between the different roles in the same relationship was not within her capacity, and there was much frustration for them both. This dynamic in the homeschool family can create a great undercurrent of resentment and even animosity, as the mom tries to balance the responsibilities of instruction and correction with her desire to nurture and support.

Watching the relationship between my daughter and my wife shift to one characterized greatly by dissatisfaction, I saw what I remembered feeling myself. I could feel her crying out inside–she wanted her mother. In my own experience, I saw my mother as the teacher far more than as mother. My mother did not intend this, and perhaps would be surprised at my observations. I wonder if she also at times was dissatisfied with the relationship she found herself in with myself and my brothers due to her role as homeschool teacher? When I had student-teacher difficulties, where could I take those feelings? When I was not measuring up in my school work and my mom was the one grading my work and calling me out on my performance, and (very rightly) observing that I could do better, what I heard was disappointment in me. With little or no distinction between home life and school life, there often can be few outlets for a child to voice or process these emotions.

As I look back at all my experiences, the distance offers perspective, and my recent experiences provide more insight. My experience cannot be the same as everyone else’s, and I cannot suggest that any one choice is right for others. Homeschooling can be a fantastic option and be greatly enriching to family life, but sharing our personal stories and struggles is crucial to the well-being of all the family members. Having an avenue for evaluating the merits and struggles of homeschooling, and authenticity in our presentation of them might give new freedom to families to share their burdens and receive the help and support they truly long for, with no shame or judgment or fear.

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