“Respond, don’t react.”
“Respond, Katie, don’t react.”
If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. It seems like my mother spent half of my childhood reminding me to be mindful of my choices instead of reacting unwisely and impulsively. Now that I’m a mother myself I often find the same caution on my own lips. More than that, I hear Mom’s voice in my head. And I’ve discovered that the same advice applies to homeschooling too.
It’s like any other aspect of parenting; so much of what we choose to do is based at least in part on our own experiences growing up. Again I hear Mom’s mantra, “Respond, don’t react.” Suppose a mother remembers feeling suffocated by her parents’ restrictions when she was a child. In reaction to that frustrating memory, she declares her child will never be told “no.” That’s not a well-considered response. It’s not searching out which boundaries are actually good for her child, but considering only how far away she can get from the overly zealous boundaries she experienced herself.
Unfortunately, I know a number of adults who were homeschooled at some point during their childhood, disliked the experience for various reasons, and have determined that because they didn’t appreciate some aspects of their own home education, they will not even consider homeschooling their children. None of these friends were abused or neglected in any way. Some of them didn’t like their curriculum; others detested the busywork that took up so much time. I’ve heard people complain about the homeschool groups they were a part of, and I’ve heard people say they always wished they had the opportunity to be part of a homeschool group. Some felt their studies were too rigorous; others wished their parents would have pushed them harder. I’m going to be honest here: not everyone’s homeschooling experience is rainbows and sunshine. But I also know that children don’t always see everything clearly, and that holding fast to mistaken childish opinions after reaching adulthood rarely leads us to good decisions. It’s just another way to react impulsively instead of responding appropriately.
“Respond, don’t react.” This well-worn saying goes for second generation homeschoolers too. Our education choices should never be simply a knee-jerk reaction to our own memories. But we can- and should!- carefully consider our background as we determine what is best for our families. Experience can be a wonderful teacher if you’re willing to learn from it responsibly instead of just tossing it aside. You’re the adult now with the freedom to make your own decisions concerning your children’s education. That video teaching program you hated so much it seems to darken every homeschooling memory you have? Guess what, you don’t have to use that with your children! The same goes with the schedule your mother liked but you didn’t, the poetry group you just couldn’t get interested in, the math curriculum that made math harder than it needed to be. Every single aspect of homeschooling can be altered to fit your family.
There’s a wealth of resources and groups that just weren’t around when we were kids. There’s also a wealth of experienced homeschoolers to learn from. Even if you want to forget everything you did as a homeschooler, you don’t have to start from scratch. Truthfully, our kids’ experiences will be completely different from our own whether we try to make them the same or not. But remember that’s a good thing. You get to decide what works best for you as the parent as well as what works best for your kids.
My husband and I are friends with a couple who did their best to avoid homeschooling for several years due only to the fact that the previously homeschooled father was holding on to some bitterness over his own experience as a child. Finally, though, the family was put in a position where their only feasible choice was homeschooling, and even then they began very reluctantly. But by the end of the first year they were hooked. That was a number of years ago now and they’re still homeschooling. And due in large part to their influence, some of their friends began homeschooling too. It turns out that home education is more customizable than our friends initially believed. I hope you realize that can be the case for your family too.
Maybe you didn’t love homeschooling when you were a kid. Maybe your bad memories have made you determined to never homeschool your own kids. But as you consider next year’s educational choices for your children, take a deep breath and relax. Put homeschooling back on the list of possibilities and make the choice to respond carefully and wisely to your experiences instead of reacting out of fear or frustration or bitterness. You’ll be better equipped to make a well-informed decision. And you’ll make my mom so proud.