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The Myth of the "Perfect" Homeschooling Family
 
By Michelle Barone, M.A. MFT
 
You know they are out there: Families that homeschool perfectly. The children dutifully do their schoolwork, act in plays, mentor with famous paleontologists, volunteer at homeless shelters, read books for fun and wear shoes all the time. The mom manages to get three well-balanced and delicious meals a day on the table, keep an attractively cluttered house, drives her children to all their sports, classes and part time jobs. She looks great, and even takes cello lessons in her spare time. The dad is patient and kind, makes lots of money, but tells everyone he thinks his wife is the hardest working member of the family. They even manage to have dates and sex together. This is the perfect family. You, on the other hand, worry about the health department finding out about your kitchen floor, your kids watch way too much television, and your nine-year-old isn't reading yet, but he is quite good at teasing his little sister. You homeschool your children because you want the best for them, and you know sending them to school would only create more problems. You have read all there is to read about learning and homeschooling, but you still question yourself, compare yourself with that "perfect" family.

Most of this questioning is just part of the whole adventure of being a parent and deciding to homeschool. Everyone has doubts and moments of despair. Will your teenager really want to do something besides comb her hair and apply makeup? Will your twelve-year-old ever pick up a book just to read? Will your six-year-old ever want to hear about addition or subtraction?

But sometimes your may truly question whether homeschooling is a good choice for your family. Perhaps you and your husband haven't spoken to one another in months. Or one of your children is caught shoplifting. Or your teenager seems depressed. Or you are depressed and unable to find the energy to do anything, and so the kids watch television all day. As always, there is this image of the perfect homeschooling family, mocking you every day, making sure you know you just don't measure up to this ideal.

Family members might try to "help" you with advice. Your mother might say homeschooling is the cause of these troubles. Or your sister-in-law says your kids would not fight so much if they were in school. Your marriage would be wonderful if you would just put the kids in school and get a job. Your children would behave better at family functions if they learned a little discipline in school. When we make choices, like homebirth, extended breastfeeding, or homeschooling, that set us outside of the mainstream of our culture, others tend to point their fingers at the choice we have made, not the problem itself.

As a long-time homeschooling parent and family therapist, I have had the opportunity to spend time with many families. I have seen their children grow up and watched the parents learn and grow right along with them. I have also learned many things from these families. I know that children are born with a personality and a temperament. I know that we can either honor who they are as people or we can make them miserable trying to force them to be someone thy are not. I have seen families weather hard times such as loss of a parent/spouse, divorce, mental illness and substance abuse. Homeschooling helps with healing from these events, but does not solve all the problems families face. We all come from families that are not perfect, and in our struggle to create this perfect image we find ourselves falling short and blame first ourselves, then our marriages, then our children, and sometimes homeschooling. But the power of homeschooling to work through problems, come up with solutions, and grow together as a family make it the perfect choice for many families.

Just because you homeschool doesn't mean your children will not cry, fight, have a meltdown in the supermarket, feel pressured by their peers, or feel angry, sad confused or frustrated. Just because you homeschool doesn't mean your husband won't feel left out, or frustrated, or have a substance abuse problem What homeschooling does do is give you more opportunities to support your children when life becomes difficult.

There are many theories about how to be a parent and how to educate our children. I believe each family must live by the parenting and leaning that works best in their family. The myth that there is one "perfect' way to educate children or be a family, only hurts those whose best instincts are always for the good of their children. Homeschooling is an educational answer for many families and it is a path to healing for many others, but it is not always perfect. My goal as a therapist is to help parents create an environment where family members get their needs met and each member is honored for who s/he is. When problems and conflicts pervade the household, it may be hard to focus on getting these needs met. Sending children to school often looks like the solution. But when your children are with you all day, homeschooling can actually support healing a family and provide opportunities for growth and change. The long-term implication of homeschooling goes beyond the academics.

There is no perfect homeschooling family, just as there is no perfect family. The one advantage home-schooling families have is time to work through problems and difficulties together. With the help of a therapist, a family can learn better communication, defining each person's needs, and finding the strengths of the family. With a commitment to making your home a safe and encouraging environment for children to grow, homeschooling can be a path to the "perfect" family - YOURS!

Michelle Barone M.A. MFT is a long-time homeschooling parent, family therapist. She maintains a private practice in the Los Angeles area. She will be a speaker at the 2004 Link Homeschool Conference, June 10-13, at the Pasadena Hilton. Office, phone email/online consultations by appt. 818/951-7744 mebarone@earthlink.net www.beyondacademics.org