Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Caught in the Nebula

I've noticed a curious phenomenon out there in homeschooling mommy-blog land: when an issue gets raised or discussed on one blog, all of a sudden, blogs and forums everywhere will start humming with the same theme (I'd say something clever here about hives or whale song, except that to do so would mean exposing my appalling lack of retention for natural history facts).

The theme that I've noticed lately is a slightly troubling one: moms worried about their homeschooling efforts, moms talking longingly or wistfully of that great school around the corner, moms wondering if there's something to their non-homeschooling friends' socialization concerns, moms exhausted and wondering if homeschooling is worth it, moms ready to throw in the towel--if only they could remember where they put it.

Of course, we've all had bad days. And we've all experienced burnout.

But it's only September.

I know that families have different needs and concerns, and face struggles and problems far beyond what we sometimes read on our favorite mommy blogger's website. I would never try to tell someone else how to live his or her life, or pretend that serious issues involving home and family can't get in the way of even the best intentions to homeschool.

But what worries me is that so much of this sudden surge of doubt seems to be quite nebulous, based less on real problems that demand solutions, but on those vague, drifting clouds of concern that swirl around our heads from time to time: what if my child is missing out? What if school would be better for him/her? What if I'm wasting his/her time, and mine, trying to do this? What if I'm really no good at this homeschooling stuff? What if I can't go on handling the mess and the chaos for the next couple of decades?

This nebula of confusion can be a real obstacle to homeschooling peace; it can attack even the most committed of homeschooling moms, and make every day less and less an adventure in education and more and more a battle for sanity.

Which is not good--because these doubts have nothing whatsoever to do with homeschooling at all.

These are doubts that plague nearly all mothers. These are the doubts that come with the territory, that begin that first moment in the hospital when that warm sweet-scented bundle first reposes on your chest; they won't end until the end of your earthly life (and maybe not even then). Whether you put your children into a tiny private Catholic academy run by certified saints or whether you teach your children at home following the most tortuously excellent method you can find or whether they board the ordinary yellow school bus each day matters very little in terms of these dreadful fears. No matter what we do for our children, there's always at least one different option, and being plagued by the strange ability to see nearly every possibility for good or ill emanating from every decision we ever make about or for our children is one of those things that can be very useful to a mother--provided it doesn't drive her insane, first.

Picture an expectant mother, confidently shopping for her soon-to-arrive little miracle. She places items in her cart without any concern at all: she's done the research, and knows instinctively which item is the best: the best car seat, the best baby monitor, the best organic cotton rompers--she's got it all down cold. There's nothing to this mothering stuff, is there?

Picture that same mother two years later. She stands hesitantly in the clothing aisle: is it even worth buying this sweatsuit in the size 3T, considering how soon Baby will grow out of it? On the other hand, the weather is getting cooler, but all of his 4T clothes are summer clothes, since she bought them early for next year thinking that clothing sizes might actually correspond roughly to ages. While she hesitates, she remembers that Baby broke out terribly the last time he wore long pants, though she could never be certain that it wasn't due to the orange Popsicle his father foolishly let him eat that day. Should she take a chance on the suit, or go with the corduroy shortalls and knee socks? Would knee socks break him out? She forgot to ask her husband's mother if contact dermatitis ran in their family; husband doesn't get it, but can't remember if his brother did. Maybe she should wait to buy any clothes until she knows for sure...although it is getting cooler, and Baby's always so susceptible to weather-change driven sinus attacks...with any luck, she'll be out of the baby clothes aisle in a quarter of an hour or so.

Those parents whose kids aren't being homeschooled may not lay awake at night worrying that the children aren't getting enough outside stimulation, extracurricular activities, brown-bag lunches, or field trips; but they are laying awake at night worrying about their children's friends, that paper with a "D-" they found stuffed under the couch cushions in the living room, the note from the teacher about a child's disruptive behavior or failing math grade, and the sullen look on the face of the daughter who refuses to go to Mass on Sunday with the family--or at all. To be a parent is to worry; it is to second-guess what seems like every decision you make; it is to re-evaluate your whole family's mode of existence at the drop of a hat; it is to wonder how you, and they, are going to survive all of the mess and chaos for the next couple of decades: because that mess and chaos arrives into your home along with that very first pink- or blue-wrapped bundle, and, if you're lucky, will stay around long enough for your great-grandchildren to bring it to you in their wake.

Because by then you'll miss it, of course. It will seem so long ago that all you had to worry about was how to get through the homeschooling stuff--as if that was really a worry! With the wisdom of age will come the perspective I hope to gain someday: that very few things in this life are really, truly worth worrying about, or worth allowing clouds of doubt to form and rain their negativity down on us. We are, after all, wrapped in the loving care of a Father Whose providence should be enough for us--and for our children. Trusting that He will guide us in everything we do for the sake of our children is the only way I know of to dispel the swirling nebula of fear and anxiety that threatens to overwhelm us all from time to time.


Christie@tisbutaseason said...

Bravo, Red. I was in tears by the end of your post as it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Just when we made the decision to homeschool I panicked and then DH said public school. Now that we're in public school I know I should have homeschooled. But what's a mom to do? I know DH is tired of hearing it. Yesterday DH said we could homeschool at the end of the 6wks (another week and a half) and today I'm panicking. What is wrong with me?

I truly believe with everything I have that homeschooling is the right decision...I'm just worrying about all the things your mentioned in your post. Add to it that dd is having a ball in kindergarten and I wonder what others in the neighborhood will think of us (silly, I know)

Anyway, thank you again soooo much for your thought provoking, heartfelt post.

Pax Christi!

Opal said...

Our prayers are with you Christi. Our first year of homeschooling I threatened several times to put our DD on the school bus! No joke. We were not having academic problems but with her attitude and things we had failed to address earlier on. If you ever feel the urge to PaNiC...run to Our Lady; and don't forget all the Saints too!

Needed this Red. Great!
We have just put our house on the market cuz were heading west to Texas! But, I never realized the stress of selling moving and homeschooling! I may be bald or ALL white by the time we get there!

4andcounting said...

Thanks for pointing out that those of us who have chosen to put our kids in school (public in our case) have anxieties and doubts too. What you say is so true--doubt and fear and concern come with parenting, and our only recourse is prayer and trust in God the Father. It is SO hard to remember that in the midst of anxiety though.

MommaLlama said...

Nice post Red... and I agree about the nebula, and this spreading since of anxiety. Very interesting...

nutmeg said...

Although... sometimes anxiety can teach us things and point out what needs to be changed. You yourself pointed out to us the Imp of Illusions at your own home school, Red.

As long as we take these concerns with a heavy dose of prayer, God will lead our footsteps down the right path for our own family.

Red Cardigan said...

No wish to be argumentative, Nutmeg, but I'd say that there's a difference between being anxious about things (general) and deciding that things (specific) need to change.

The one leads to positive action--e.g., if doing math lessons first thing in the morning leads to grumpiness and stalling, maybe trying to do math at a different time of day might help. If that doesn't help, maybe a different math book or workbook might help. In other words, the problem is clearly defined (math is causing an undue amount of stress) and the solutions are directed at that (new time, new book, even tutoring if that would help).

So, there can be situations where "not homeschooling anymore" can be a specific, directed solution to a particular and well-defined problem. But there are other times when "not homeschooling anymore" is seen wistfully as a way to be *certain* that our kids won't 'miss out' or 'be stunted' or some such vague fear. My point in writing this post is that switching from school to homeschool or vice versa simply won't solve those vague parental fears and doubts--it will just relocate them.

Some problems can be solved by "regular" school: for instance, if the family is facing poverty and mom has to go back to work full-time to help keep food on the table and a roof over the family's heads. Some problems can't: the undisciplined child *may* learn to behave in school, at least minimally, but even if he/she does, there's nothing to keep him/her from reverting to "little hellion mode" as soon as he/she gets home every day. The problem isn't "solved," but mom can avoid it for six or seven hours a day.

More importantly, if mom is worried about the child's outbursts at home, those worries aren't going to vanish just because the child does, for several hours a day. She may find herself anxiously watching the phone, waiting for the reports of bad behavior that are all too likely to come.

Does this make sense?

Melanie B said...

I read one mom's blog recently who said of all our panic and self doubt that it's because we all know we are doing the most important job we will ever do, the most important job in the world: raising a child. And yet we also know we are imperfect. We know that we will make bad decisions, that we will fail because we know that we are fallible.

That really resonate with me. As did your post. Unlink her, though, you point to a way to pacify that inner conflict: trust in God. We are imperfect but he is perfect. And he chose to make me the mother of my children. He must believe I am the best mother for them. I have to trust him to step into the gap when I fail. And above all pray, pray, pray.

Thanks for a great, thoughtful post.