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A New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Quit
By Diane Flynn Keith
If you are like many homeschool parents, pangs of guilt may be plaguing you as the New Year arrives. In spite of your best intentions, you may not have touched a textbook since Thanksgiving, and somehow the six weeks between then and New Year’s Day are a blur of holiday craft projects, baking, caroling, visiting, decorating, wrapping, giving, and receiving. Usually, in mid-January, parents rouse from the holiday stupor and discover that they are way behind in their study plan as they wonder aloud, “What have the kids been doing for the past two months?” Then the guilt sets in as they realize their own role in not keeping to the homeschool schedule, and all too easily succumbing to the kids pleas to just play with new toys or video games or with the puppy that arrived Christmas morning. It happens to the best of us. It’s just harder to accept “holiday stall-out” in your first year of homeschooling. For some newcomers, it can create such self-reproach that they speculate if they have what it takes to homeschool at all. They didn’t expect to get pushed off track so easily by the holiday rush.

Inevitably, thoughts of compensating for lost time fill their heads. They think, “If we just do two math chapters, three spelling lessons, one science experiment, and read twenty pages in the history textbook every day from now until Valentine’s Day, we’ll be all caught up.” Some are penitent enough to implement this ill-fated routine to the chagrin of their children and the forfeit of their own sanity. All too often this over-ambitious make-up plan is so exhausting that it’s hard to determine which was worse – the anxiety of taking an extended study break over the holidays or the stress of trying to catch-up. Either way, parents may feel defeated, and as they look toward June, the overwhelming reality of trying to “do it all” in that first year pleads with them to quit.

Becoming a homeschool parent is easy. There are so many options to accommodate parents who want to teach their kids at home – from public school home-study programs to the more independent, non-regulated approaches. A friend recently said, “Homeschoolers are a dime a dozen.” You see homeschool families everywhere out and about in their communities. Homeschoolers are media darlings and we have become so common-place that we are even characterized (for better or worse) on TV — the homeschool episode of South Park and the made-for-TV-movie of Stephen King’s Carrie comes to mind. Everybody knows somebody who homeschools.

Remaining a homeschool parent is the hard part. There are roadblocks and potholes on the homeschool path. Few find the stamina to make it past the first bout of their child’s refusal to cooperate as they throw the spelling book on the floor in a fit of tears and frustration, or the first anxiety attack when a parent can’t understand a math problem well enough to explain it to her child, or that first run-in with the arrogant, know-it-all relative who objects to homeschooling. Surviving the first few months of homeschooling makes one aware that homeschooling can be tough, but getting through the first holiday season as a homeschooler confirms it.

Taking the responsibility for educating your child does require time and dedication. However, taking the task too seriously can be detrimental to your success and longevity. In your first year of homeschooling you and your kids should be having the time of your lives. You should be making new friends, adapting to all of the subtle shades of a brand new lifestyle and method of learning, trying out and getting comfortable with a rhythm and routine of work and play that is just right for your family. The academics are really only a small portion of the entire homeschool picture, and all too often, first-year homeschoolers concentrate on only that aspect. It’s the hyper-focus on academics that nags at you and eventually eats away at your resolve to homeschool. It is important to try to see beyond just the school work and concentrate instead on creating an environment that supports learning in a joyful way that is fully integrated with your family life, including the holidays.

The positive energy and dedication you bring to homeschooling is accompanied by an equal and negative force that can lead to self-doubt and burn-out. If you learn to recognize the negative energy when it is present and face the fear of failure it raises in you, you can dispel it and get on with the business of creating a comfortable and optimum learning atmosphere for your children. That positive-negative force is omnipresent in homeschooling. It’s what clears out the insincere, the kooks, and the wanna-bes during the first year. It hangs around in subsequent years too. But if you just get through the first year, it subsides to a small degree. You will begin to think you might have the right stuff after all and wonder what the future will bring.

If you get to the five-year mark in homeschooling that negative force is hardly detectable. Your friendships in the homeschool community will be strong and supportive. The day-to-day activities will feel balanced, and transitions from productive times to ineffective times will feel less threatening and more comfortable. The mean-spirited critics of your first year will have fallen by the wayside or had to eat their words. There will still be little tests of your resolve from time to time as your children grow and change, but you will have tasted enough success to recognize the sweetness of sticking with homeschooling for the long run.

At the end of ten years of homeschooling you will be proud of your ability to persevere and the wonderful outcome of your dedication to teaching your children at home. You will have trounced on negative self-talk so many times that it doesn’t dare rear its ugly head. You’ll laugh at yourself for ever doubting the process. You will be amused by those who fret over lost academic time during the holidays and offer the best two words of heartfelt advice to anyone who thinks they should just give up: “Don’t quit.”

Copyright © 2002 by Diane Keith, All Rights Reserved.