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  When Your Homeschool Doesn't Turn Out the Way You Thought It WouldThursday, May 23rd, 2024  
by Barbara Smith

We began homeschooling more than nine years ago, all learning together. I was nervous, but happy to be with our kids. I knew I wanted to be home with them more then anything else. Our scholastic progress was obvious at once and we hoped this would be the beginning of our dreams to offer our children an outstanding academic experience. However, in our enthusiasm we underestimated the principle component of child rearing: character training.

As new Christians, my husband and I naively imagined "character training" would be the logical outcome of morning devotions and Bible study. We did not fathom the extent of the command to train our children to fear God and keep His commands.

Home schooling also instantly highlighted the sorry state of my housekeeping skills. I wondered if I had simply exchanged the burdens of car pools and extracurricular activities for a messy house, chronic exhaustion and escalating battles over authority. As this new adventure blazoned my inadequate teaching skills, deficient homemaking talents, I learned I had some real gaps in my Christian character! We also learned other stuff that the "gurus" did not mention in home schooling literature.

My time was no longer my own; routine chores lapsed and familiar relationships were recast because of time constraints. As the matrix of daily living intersected now with a daily academic program, I changed into someone whom I didn't like very much. The clutter and confusion of chores that we never seemed to complete satisfactorily bothered me. Routine obligations to elderly parents became intrusive; volunteering for church activities became a pipedream. The worry that I might be hindering our children academically gnawed at me. The surprise and chagrin of increasing numbers of arguments - over silly stuff - upset me. No, I did not like the woman who I was becoming: excitable, demanding and well, shrewish.

Family responsibilities and business obligations pressed in and crowded out family devotions, Bible study and Bible memory work. My husband and I kept up our personal devotions, but we frequently slighted the Lord during our "school." While I knew how to teach Scripture, I frequently skipped the formal Bible study because I felt pressured to complete the "academics." The bedeviling urgency drove us to get cracking on the books, get the house picked up, take someone to the doctor, talk to clients or fill in at Sunday school. Mortified, I realized we had more consistent family devotions when we were packing the kids off to Christian school! On too many afternoons, I crawled into my bed and sobbed, ashamed and despairing. Had I misunderstood? Where could I look for confirmation that we could finish the homeschooling course?

Though I definitely liked being at home with the children, I chafed as goals and standards continued to slide. Amid uncertainty, confusion and clutter, arguments erupted, and built into unpleasant exchanges and harsh words. Squabbles over school escalated and culminated in harsh punishments, dispensed unevenly. In the heat of almost daily clashes, I continued to pore over the ever swelling numbers of homeschooling publications. The seemingly endless narratives of everyone's accomplishments nearly crushed me: I was failing in the face of national achievements! Just as my skeptical friends and family had predicted I would when we first decided to homeschool.

Disquiet became a fixture in the classroom, and despair and defeat became recurrent themes in my journal. I began to reread HOW TO WORSHIP JESUS CHRIST by Dr. Joseph Carroll. Slowly the spiritual significance of homeschooling dawned on me. Although deliverance was still a long way away and setbacks followed more disappointments, the Lord kept directing my eyes to Him and not my circumstances. Our daughter's innocent question jarred her father into a serious Bible inquiry when she asked him, "How do you know if it is God talking to you when you pray?" Soon after, we studied Psalm 119 together and resolved to let nothing come before our family devotions and prayer. Family devotions have remained a constant source of great joy and pleasure. Family life improved when we cut back on the demands "outsiders" could make on us. Some friends did not comprehend our dilemma, and resented our withdrawal. However, both kids appreciated that we laid aside our extra "church" work that always put a demand on them. Calm and order and peace became the replacement fixtures. Gradually, the notion that the Lord had lessons other than algebra and literature for me to teach took hold in my heart. I quit asking why the Lord wasn't answering my questions as I came to believe firmly He stayed quiet for a good reason. He was silent until we relinquished our prejudices and preconceived notions about what we wanted to accomplish. Until we turned over the reins and allowed Him to control the content of our curriculum, He was aloof - not absent - but aloof.

Our dreams for home schooling were not wrong; our vision was incomplete. My husband and I needed to learn dependence upon the Lord for even the smallest detail of our lives. We also needed to lay aside what we wanted to achieve in homeschooling and accept opportunities given by God. We needed to learn the intimacy and privilege of being together. We had to hammer out what the Word of God means when it says to honor our parents, and not to exasperate our children. We had to learn together what it means to forgive and to reconcile our differences.

Our homeschool didn't work out the way we thought it might. It frightened me to think we might fail in this monumental task. The Bible is a great comfort and antidote for fear of failing.

King David assured his son Solomon who also faced a historic, but enormous building project: ". . . Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don't be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly." (1 Chronicles 28:20)

Be strong. What is in my life that weakens me? Am I skipping Bible study and worship to do chores? Am I staying up too late, or eating too much of the wrong stuff? Am I clinging to habits, sins or friendships that draw me away from being a Proverbs 31 woman?

Be courageous. Have I failed to discipline the children consistently in love - because I feared their rejection, or others' criticism? Have I made compromises, waffling when I needed to stand firm? Did I let the children skip their chores and assignments? Did I waver on choices of movies and music?

Get to work. Have I been spinning my wheels, wasting time by worrying? Elisabeth Eliot suggests that simply doing the very next thing on the list of chores is the first step in walking in God's will. If you know you are obeying the Lord by home schooling, quit revisiting the decision! Do the dishes; make the beds; sort the laundry; dust - do the first thing that is necessary to maintain order in your home. If you don't know how or where to begin housekeeping while home schooling - ask for help. Yes, it is humbling to admit you need help in the basics, but it delights your heavenly Father to answer! (Isaiah 66:2)

Don't be frightened by the size of the task. Look at your little ones - think about what you have taught them already. It is a colossal undertaking to educate a child, but parents are teachers. God expects parents to teach their children about Him as long as they live (Deuteronomy 4:9) Will He withhold what is necessary to teach phonics or geometry?

For the Lord my God is with you. The God of David is with me - as He was with Solomon, as He is with you. Therefore, throughout the day - the long day of phonics and spelling, reading and recitation, math facts and word problems - you and I must remember Who is with us. The God who laid the foundations of the earth and scattered the starry host so that not one is missing, guides your home school - and your home. Nothing can ambush you that will disconcert Him!

He will not forsake you. When your life is boiling over, do not doubt the Lord Jesus' words, "I will never leave you or forsake you." I have dropped the ball and bungled the schooling, the chores or the finances. The Lord Jesus has never left me or forsaken me. I have said and done things I ought not to have spoken or done; I left undone things that really needed doing. The Lord Jesus has never left me or forsaken me. Even as some of my worst anxieties have become real, the Lord Jesus has never left me or forsaken me. You and I must take Him at His word and rely upon the plain meaning of what He said.

Tomorrow brings more math, more spelling and science, and more chores, Lord willing. Therefore, I have learned to choose, as King David did - the shelter of His wings instead of regretting and fretting. David created and endured disasters and disappointments, but he also triumphed by the grace of His God. No matter, then, the disasters or disappointments that lurk just beyond the start of our next lessons, I am assured I can triumph by the same grace of God. David's God is the same God who invited us to teach our children at home. He "will not forsake us but will see to it that everything is finished correctly."

© Barbara W. Smith 1998, all rights reserved.

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