A little while ago, I wrote a blog post about how the negativity I sometimes hear about homeschooling gets depressing. It's bad enough when the secular world looks down on homeschooling; it's worse if it comes from our fellow Catholics; but I think the worst thing of all is when I hear fellow Catholic homeschooling moms trash homeschooling, as if the only way to get any respect as a homeschooler is to agree that homeschooling is insane, difficult, frustrating, and freakish--but we do it anyway, white-knuckles, weak knees, chaos and all.
So then I got to thinking: why are there so many homeschooling moms who trash homeschooling?
Some easy explanations spring to mind: perhaps these moms want to fit in better with their non-homeschooling friends, or they have this idea that "keeping it real" means complaining all the time and acting as though nobody's ever really happy; or they're acutely aware that in our culture actually liking your kids and wanting to spend time with them is so rare as to sound like bragging if you say you do, or they're so tired of defending their choice to homeschool to critical relatives, friends, and neighbors that they've adopted this style of defense mechanism...and so on. But I think that sometimes the homeschooling moms who are relentlessly negative about homeschooling may actually mean it, and that brings with it a couple of possibilities: they may be the sort of person who really ought not be homeschooling, or their situation may make homeschooling uniquely difficult in a way that it's not for the majority of happy homeschoolers out here.
About the first, there is little to say except that it's really not possible for anyone but the homeschooling mom to arrive at that conclusion. There really are some people who due to personality type or background or temperament or similar things are not going to be happy when they try homeschooling, no matter how terrific the situation may seem to be. But nobody who is outside that family can possibly see or know that. I know moms who have happily persevered in homeschooling despite seemingly insurmountable odds, and others who threw in the towel after three months because they came to the conclusion (with relief or heartbreak or a bit of both) that they really, really, really weren't cut out for it. And that's something only one person can discern--the homeschooling parent.
About the second, though, there may be a few more things to say--but before I say them, I want to be clear about one thing: just because a particular situation might make homeschooling more difficult than it otherwise would be, it does not follow that people in those situations do or even should just give up. What is a great difficulty and heavy cross for one family might be relatively negligible for another. But my suspicion is that some of the grumbling and griping about life as a homeschooling mom may arise when one of the following situations is present:
1. There is strong opposition to homeschooling from one's husband or one's extended family. Why would this lead to more griping on mommy blogs and when in the company of other homeschooling moms? Simple: because in real life, at home, and with critical relatives the mom in this situation is constantly being tested and has to prove, all the time, that things are good. Really, really good. Amazingly, impossibly, perfectly good. Even...inhumanly good.
And nobody's life is like that all of the time. Even if kids are in regular school they can fail quizzes and misplace homework and get creamed while playing dodge ball--and homeschooled children can fail quizzes and accidentally skip over a page of a workbook and fall down while playing touch football in the back yard. The difference is, if one has a critical spouse or parents or in-laws, it's homeschooling's fault that seven-year-old Polychronius*** missed eight questions on a spelling test or left a page of his math homework blank or skinned his knees--but if Polychronius were in "real" school, the bombed quiz and missed homework and skinned knee would be chuckled over as all part of growing up.
So these moms gripe to anyone who will listen about the imperfections, because in front of people who ought to be on their side they have to maintain an illusion of serene daily accomplishment--and they have my sympathy, even if they end up quitting homeschool because once again Grandma insinuated that Polychronius' inability to locate Uzbekistan on a blank outline map she conveniently had hanging in her living room during the last family gathering is all Mom's fault.
2. There is a family crisis going on right now that makes homeschooling a grueling drudgery instead of a joyful and loving experience. Family crises come in all shapes and sizes: perhaps the marriage is strained, or perhaps a young child or one's elderly parents need near full-time care, or perhaps someone is critically ill, or perhaps Dad lost his job, or the bank is threatening their home, or perhaps young Ceolwulf has been charitably spending time with the neighbor children, or that's what mom thought until the whole gang was arrested for running a shoplifting ring targeted at the local convenience store chain...well, you get the idea.
Lots of homeschooling moms manage to get through these sorts of crisis situations. They don't do it alone--they'll be the first to tell you. Extended family, friends, fellow parishioners, neighbors, even total strangers who heard about their situation and felt moved to help did just that. People offered them everything from prayer to financial help to tutoring for the kiddies to free babysitting to anything else that was necessary, and the grateful moms (and dads and kids!) offered prayers of joyful thanks, took the aid, and kept on voyaging in English and meandering in math around the kitchen table right through the hardest times.
But other homeschooling moms may be going it alone, even in the crisis times. We hear all the time about the loneliness and isolation stay-at-home moms face in the modern age, and even though things are better for some moms in some places what's true for one area may not be true for another. That loneliness and isolation are hard enough to deal with during ordinary times, but when the whole family is in crisis mode everything about being a mom can seem overwhelming, from the supposedly simple tasks like laundry and cleaning to the complications of preparing a child to take a college entrance exam. When a mom in a crisis situation seems negative about homeschooling, it may be because it's just another huge brick in the seemingly endless and precarious stack of similar bricks that feel as though they're strapped to the top of her head, all of them wobbly, all of them in danger of crashing down at any moment. And sometimes it's easier to crack cynical jokes about how today's science lesson involved identifying and then removing the bacteria growing in the bathtub then to admit to others (which is hard) and to herself (which is much harder) that she needs help.
3. There is a battle of wills over discipline going on with at least one child, and it has spilled over into homeschooling. Perhaps teaching little Begga at home was a joy for the first couple of years, but then Begga got a bit willful, and then she started being sassy and disobedient, and then she started getting angry, and now pre-adolescent Begga is whining every day about everything Mom tries to do, resisting, refusing, storming off and slamming doors, and acting as though homeschooling is a slow poison to her soul (a phrase she actually used. On the Facebook account she set up without permission. And on which she posted an unflattering camera-phone picture of her mom with a rude caption, and shared with over a thousand people, only ten of whom Begga actually knows in person).
Some moms in this situation will blame homeschooling for the discipline problem, which really isn't fair (I mean, seriously, is every public or private school child you know a paragon of disciplinary perfection?). Other moms will work to fix the discipline issue while still homeschooling, and still others will send a child in this situation to school to remove one point of contention while addressing the underlying discipline issue apart from the question of homeschooling. And all of those are great approaches.
But the approach that lets the situation continue to fester while Mom writes increasingly snarky blot or Facebook posts about the myth of homeschooling and how she's learned the hard way that homeschooling doesn't improve one's relationship with one's child, etc., is an approach that isn't doing anybody any good: not Mom, not Begga, and not the people scared away from even considering homeschooling by stories like this.
I'm sure there are a lot more hypothetical situations out there that can turn homeschooling from a delight into an almost unbearable (or fully unbearable) cross. But I sort of can't help wishing that moms experiencing these things would be just a bit more forthcoming about the fact that right now for them personally homeschooling is rather a drag (and maybe even ask for that help that we all need from time to time) instead of presenting a vision of "real" homeschooling as thinly-concealed perpetual chaos and non-stop junior amateur home demolition. Sure, it can be like that sometimes, because life can be like that sometimes, especially life with children. But I have to say exactly what I'd say to Polychronius's grandmother when she scoffs at his inability to recite Pi to seventeen decimals on command: not everything is mom's, or homeschooling's, fault.
***Hypothetical names for children from the Patron Saints website, because we have some really awesome saints' names out there, don't we?