By Susan Wight
I rarely doubt that home education is a better way for children to learn, but I have to admit there are times when it all seems too hard. I guess this happens to all of us now and then. Some days I feel discouraged and dispirited with home education and I fear my children are just not becoming the kind of people I hope they will become. I am willing to accept their individual differences but I do so want them to be kind, compassionate, considerate, responsible, independent ….and some days that all seems unachievable.
Often my doubts come at the end of a very long day when my children have been unusually demanding or exhibited such embarrassingly unsocial behaviour that I gravely doubt whether I am doing the right thing in giving them so much freedom. The tricky part for me is that talking about bad days to anyone not home educating is not a good idea – not unless I want to hear that my children ‘need more structure’, ‘have too much freedom’, ‘sometimes children just need someone else telling them what to do’ and possibly receive a recommendation for a ‘good boarding school’!
I have also had days where I have fallen shamefully short of the kind of parent I want to be. I find it helps on these occasions to try to be kind to myself about it. I try to remember that a bad five minutes doesn’t really make me the worst parent in the world even though that is how I am feeling at the time.
Hard times do have varying degrees – sometimes we are just overwhelmed by the busy-ness of life and a bad day. A good night’s sleep may be all that is required to make home education and our ideals seem much more viable.
When we and/or our children are sick, however, just getting through each day becomes a mammoth task. Life contracts to the point of caring for the sick children, and everything else is forgotten. We just survive each day as well as we can. Sometimes the trickiest part is when they are on the mend and we feel as though we should be able to resume our normal lives but just can’t manage it. This is the time when mum tends to finally succumb to the sickness or exhaustion she has been holding at bay during the children’s illness. When children are recovering but not fully well they are irritable and difficult and this, coupled with a tired, far-from-well mum is not a good combination. It is when we are struggling ourselves that it seems hardest to cope with children’s difficult behaviour. Sometimes it is hard to recognise that they are not just behaving in such a way purely to annoy us or make life more difficult. We feel resentful and overworked. At such times, I find it helps to lower my expectations of what will be achieved in any one day and try to give everyone, including myself, as much space and freedom as possible. It is really not important if the house is a mess and many chores are left undone at these times.
There have been times for me that have exceeded a tough week: Times when my children have been unbelievably challenging over an extended period and I have just not been capable of rising to the occasion. In fact, I am ashamed to say, I too have behaved badly. If you ever have such a time it may help to remember firstly that none of us is perfect. We are all struggling along doing the best we can, sometimes in very difficult circumstances – whether the reason be illness, family breakup, grief or some other patience-sapping stress.
Our family has had two such highly stressful periods since beginning home education. The first was when the children initially came out of school and there was so much emotion connected with their negative school experiences. This had to be worked through before any of us could move on. In the meantime the children were horrible to each other and I was yelling long and often; just wanting to get away from them much of the time and fearing that home education was great in theory but that maybe I was just not up to it. The more time that passed the easier the situation became. Over the next three months we gradually got to like each other again and, not only to tolerate each other, but actually enjoy being together. It was only after this period of volatile school-recovery that the children were able to regain their interest in learning and our real home education began.
The second difficult period came several years later with a death in the family. We all struggled to cope with our own and each other’s grief and were cantankerous. One child in particular was unable to vocalise his feelings and, instead, lashed out. This was incredibly hard to deal with. I tried to keep in mind that what we were going through, although overwhelming and demoralizing, would be temporary; that the child’s behaviour was inextricably linked to the circumstances we were in at the time and that it would pass. And pass it eventually did, although time seemed to slow down for a while and I wasn’t sure that we would ever come through it.
For home educating families hard times can be compounded by the well-meaning concern of friends who are sure that if we just return to mainstream education all will be well. This just isn’t true. Looking back now I can see quite clearly that our own hard times have just been what life has dealt our family rather than due to home education itself. There are many different paths available in life and each of them, even the most glamorous ones, will involve their own hard times. The difference for home educating families is that we struggle through these times as a family rather than each going our separate ways during the day and coping as well as we can alone or each seeking support elsewhere.
For our family, surviving hard times together has given us a better understanding of each other and made us a stronger family. Of course we still have our bad days but not the spectacular ones we have had in the past. I apologise to my children if I know I have behaved like a pratt. They will never have a perfect mother but I have come to accept that there is no such thing. Perfection is just a mirage ahead of us – always just out of reach, always tantalising but never real. Now and then I remind myself that whenever I think of someone as a ‘perfect mother’ it turns out that I just don’t know them well enough yet.
My children certainly know that their mother is human, fallible and that she tries hard. And maybe that in itself is a valuable lesson to take with them into their own futures and equip them to face their own inevitable hard times.
From Otherways magazine, 2005Last updated on