The Real Problem With Homeschooling

Homeschooling is hard.  Those of us who pursue this lifestyle say it to ourselves and to one another, and we all know it’s true.  In fact, anyone who’s tried to teach her child anything for more than a week begins to see that it’s a more involved process than she imagined.  But why is it hard?  Unless our child is struggling with a particular learning challenge, why is it a big deal to teach our kids?

I’ve mulled this question over in my mind for years.  We’re approaching our ninth year of homeschooling, so by some standards we’re old hands.  At the same time we continue to experience challenges in our homeschool, even now.  As we head fully into the middle school years, we are dealing with challenges we’ve never before tackled.

The thing is, it’s not the academics that give us pause.  The “schooly stuff” is what most people who do not homeschool imagine is the Really Big Deal. They say things like, “Oh I could never teach my own kids.  I don’t remember how to do Algebra at all.  I can hardly remember my own name!”  And we smile vaguely, wondering whether this is the time to answer that we don’t remember everything about Algebra either, or to just keep silent.  Because, for a lot of us, the challenges of homeschooling are, and probably always have been, related to living life together—in the same space–every day of every year.

What makes homeschooling hard is what makes parenting hard.  In many ways, homeschooling is parenting on steroids.

The truth is that we’ve found a groove in our daily studies.  We do some math, writing, Bible study, a little memory work here and there.  There’s a whole lot of drawing and building things and messing around on the guitar or piano.  There’s a fair amount of exploring outside when the weather permits.  There are jujitsu classes and co-op once a week.  I can’t remember the last time someone cried at a math worksheet.

But when my newer homeschooling friends lean their heads near mine, eyes full, and murmur that this homeschooling thing is hard, I stare straight back and say, “You’re right.  It is.”  And what we all mean is that parenting kids is difficult, that this much contact with [spoiler alert] imperfect children wears on the soul sometimes.  Because we’re also imperfect.  We get tired, we can be selfish grown-ups (on the inside, even if we’re serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without grumbling).

This is actually a human problem, not a homeschooling one, though that doesn’t make it feel any easier.  The answer is not necessarily to jump ship on this intense, intentional lifestyle (though it may be the right answer for some families) because the character issues we confront in our children and in ourselves are there whether we see them or not.  Chances are, other people see them even if we don’t.  Homeschooling is hard because the people we love the most see our faults in Technicolor and we see theirs.  But like the irritating grains of sand inside an oyster, all that working-through-it togetherness can become an agent that helps form all of us into the pearls we’re meant to be.

So, yes, we will get tired.  Even when math is going well or classes or co-op we’ll experience real trials when we choose to live twenty-four hours a day with our children.  We will say it’s hard and we will be right.

But as the days turn into years, I am learning to say, Homeschooling is hard.  Most choices that promote growth areBut—and you know what I’m going to say—in the end, it’s worth it.

Now excuse me while I remind my son to pick up his dirty socks.  Again.

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56 thoughts on “The Real Problem With Homeschooling

  1. You are so right! I’d never thought it through before when I say “homeschooling is hard”. Quite often, any academic issues that come up are really more people-relationship/parenting issues in disguise. Math is easy. Parenting is hard. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  2. You are so right! At the same time, this is what makes the average homeschool graduate better prepared for life. It’s that extra polish of mother of pearl allowing us to go beyond the typical. I had one week’s taste of the “average” parent when my baby was in the NNICU. It was way harder dealing with the things that cropped up when I was tired and knew we’d be apart again in just a little while. It’s much better for my motivation to know I’m stuck with my kids’ behavior if I don’t deal with it now!
    BTW, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t major on the deep academics. We keep up on math (and have a few tears with one regularly), but spend way more time with Legos than history. 😀

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      • Kristen says:

        Girrrrl, that’s why I’m GOING to homeschool 😉 (Well, one of a few good reasons, but resting for the kiddos is truly one of them.;)) Thanks for sharing! Our oldest is just 3 1/2 but I’m excited and nervous and thrilled and thankful to homeschool my boys, at least for K and 1 😉

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  3. J.B. says:

    So true. We are in our 8th year. And I feel I have things down well (curriculum, etc…at least the pre-high school stuff.) AND that I’ll never get this right (ie. stay sane and happy). I’m often not sure I like my “job”, but then my husband’s job is hard too, so I’ve decided I need to grow up and continue to serve my kids even when it’s not a lot of fun for me. Homeschooling is just hard.

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  4. This quote made me laugh.

    “Homeschooling is parenting on steroids.”

    Truth. We actually shook things up for the first time this year and are only homeschooling some of our kids right now because we were all dying of a steroid overdose. 🙂

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      • Exactly. And that detox can go either way – people taking a break from homeschooling and sending all/some of their kids out, or bringing their brick & mortar schooled kids home for a season. Each option has its pros and cons, but you hit the nail on the head about homeschooling with this post. Technicolor faults, parenting on steroids … yep. 🙂

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  5. Well said, Hannah!

    I agree that the difficulty with homeschooling is really the difficulty with parenting — along with another part that you mentioned here: “Homeschooling is hard because the people we love the most see our faults in Technicolor and we see theirs.”

    Somehow God shows us through our children how we look to Him. And it isn’t pretty. 🙂 But what a wonderful chance to grow in character and see redemption played out in all of our lives, day by day.

    I am on the other end of the journey and am so grateful to see the fruit from those many years of homeschooling. To all still in the trenches — hang in there! It IS so worth it.

    Blessings~

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  6. Beverly Van Hal says:

    20+ years of homeschooling…it is hard, it is wonderful, it is fulfilling, it is impossible…sometimes all on the same day. At the end of the day? It is worth it!

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  7. Thank you for this. We are about to embark on our first year (I have four little ones, ages 5, 4, 2 and 1). My 5 and 4 year-old currently attend a private school, but we have decided to bring them home after this year. We’ll be gearing up this June. I appreciate your honesty in this post. We have a small house…its going to be interesting with all of us here everyday.

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  8. I completely agree with everything you have written. Homeschooling truly is like parenting on steroids…that is a great way to put it! Reading this is so timely for me. We are in our second year of homeschooling. My oldest is only in kindergarten, so we are still at the very beginning. Truthfully, I have been struggling a lot this year, and I’m really doubting my ability and even my desire to continue to homeschool. It’s not the academics; it’s more the behavior issues and the feeling of not being able to keep up. I can absolutely see the benefit for the future and how it would be worth it, but it is hard sometimes to look beyond the trials of today, the here and now. But I am so glad to read this and know it is not out of the ordinary to feel the way I do. Thank you for sharing your heart and experience.

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  9. This is so true! Great post!

    I’d have to pull out the calculator to remind myself how many years I’ve been homeschooling our four kids…and for the 4th time now, I’m still re-figuring out the slope-intercept concept. I’ve heard this “oh I could never homeschool my kid…I don’t have the patience, etc” comment so many times, I glaze over, and simply say, yes parenting’s not for the faint of heart. . . . To which leaves them a bit perplexed.

    I often hear a similar refrain about writing…we publish a magazine written entirely by kids and I often hear various degrees of, “(My kid) doesn’t want to write. Or I can’t get (my kid) to write.” It’s work on both sides. Inspiring kids and getting them to dig in is serious business. But like you said, “Most choices that promote growth are (hard).” http://www.TheBunkRoom.com

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  10. Joe says:

    Sadly, this post about homeschooling is like all the rest. There seems to be a need for homeschooling parents to simultaneously bemoan their jobs and be self congratulatory at the same time. “Homeschool is parenting on steroids?” You’re implying that homeschool parents are MORE of a parent than non homeschooling parents. You’re not parenting on steroids!!!! There is no such thing! I really wish homeschool parents would stop trying to find their self-worth in homeschooling. When that happens, you inadvertently make statements belittling those of us who don’t. Enough!!!!

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    • Hi Joe,
      I understand your lament. We’ve all heard the humble brag of homeschoolers, but I didn’t see Hannah’s post as written from that place.

      I see Hannah’s post as a recognition of our faults and need to just embrace them without feeling so guilty that we’re not “enough.” (An ongoing “thing” I think many parents experience.)

      In addition, it provides the inspiration for those of us who are homechooling to keep on keeping’ on.

      And frankly, wouldn’t it be reasonable to playfully call doing anything an additional 40 hours per week to be “on steroids”? Imagine if you played piano 40 hours per week. Wouldn’t it be acceptable to playfully say that you were a “pianist on steroids”? 🙂

      Those that homeschool obviously walk a completely different path than those that don’t. But, that’s not to say it’s better or worse (which we’re often continually needing to defend).

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    • Jenn @ BeautifulCalling says:

      I thought it was a great post. I’m a homeschooling mother – that is a big part of who I am in this season of life. I don’t feel that it defines my self worth though.
      I also don’t think the author was out to say that a non-homeschooling parent is less of a parent, only that they parent less – which I feel is a true statement time-wise.
      I also think she is spot on. I get “I could never teach my children” all the time as well. And the challenges that I face as I school my children at home {K and G1} have nothing to do with introductory math and everything to do with sinful people {big and small} learning together.

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    • abrand says:

      I completely agree!!! Leave the Teaching to Certified Teachers with College Degrees!! So sick of hearing how EVERY Homeschooled Student has a 4.whatever and is so Superior to students in Public School! If I homeschooled mine, I’d make sure they had an A In everything too! These kids need Impartial Adults teaching them and not babying them!

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      • Misty says:

        How easy it is to make generalizations!! I found this post encouraging and not at all derogatory toward those who choose to send their children to school. And as far as leaving teaching to those who have degrees, I think you will find that many homeschooling parents have at least a bachelors degree. I am a pharmacist one day a week and a teacher to my children all week! Also “babying” them is also a very misguided assumption. If anything, I am harder on my children and expect way more than a teacher in a public school setting would. Thank you Hannah for encouraging those of us who choose this path!

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  11. Carolyn Bott says:

    Having watched my very capable and well-educated daughter homeschool her four children for the past 8 years, I think homeschooling is hard just as parenting is hard just as sending kids to public school AND staying involved with what is happening at two or three or four different public schools is difficult. I believe each parent has the right to decide what is best for their own kids and it is wonderful to see the options that are available to home schooling parents. That is because there are parents who have NO OTHER CHOICE than to home school because family business or a child’s illness or another reason makes it necessary. These additional tens of thousands (or millions?) of homeschooling families have given publishers an adequate market to make it profitable to produce such wide varieties of material on every grade level for every child’s need. But since most children in our country will attend public school, as good citizens, please take a minute and consider what you will do to help your community and your country to help the children and the schools in your community. I still believe our family made a difference for the years my kids were in the public schools. I believe my children, all now parents, would say the same. Please do more than criticize!

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    • That’s fair! The homeschooling families I know do a lot to improve their local communities. They are generally raising good citizens, I think. For so long, it’s been homeschoolers who have felt that they have to defend their education choices to the general public and not the other way around. It does seem like if the reverse happens, people get very upset.

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  12. Thanks for the encouragement. Very timely for me right now. (Deciding on some curriculum changes tonight and feeling a little overwhelmed!)

    For some reason it’s nice to hear it’s hard for everyone not just me. Maybe I’m not doing it all wrong. 🙂

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  13. This is so right! I am in our first year. There is so much to do just to get them out of the regular school mindset and for me to get used to not having quite so much time to do what I need to do for work. But I would not trade this for the world. It is the best ever made.

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  14. Cynthia Thomeer says:

    I have friends and family members who homeschool and have great respect for them; most do an amazing job. I just wish that we (Christian parents) could stop drawing divisions among ourselves in our schooling choices. I feel like there is a way to explain why we do what we do without belittling those who make a different choice. Using the phrase “parenting on steroids” and “parenting less” (from the comments section) are hurtful and imply that those of us who send our children to public or private school are somehow not parenting as much or as well as we should be. I appreciate your point that you are with your children for more hours and that your experience in parenting is affected by that, but many of us are very involved with our children’s schools and other activities and with other children, which brings its own set of challenges and blessings. My 4 children are grown now and, thankfully, I have no regrets about our schooling choice, but there are many Christian parents who are hurt by those who take a hard stance for or against whatever their schooling choice is. I’ve heard it for so long from both sides and it just wearies and saddens me that we can’t encourage one another without putting down those who make a choice that’s different. I know that homeschoolers are criticized a lot and I am sorry that you have had to defend your choice so vehemently, both among believers and non-believers. In the church, we public schoolers are often told that what we are doing is wrong, against God’s will and that we are not doing our jobs as parents. I think that’s where I take issue with this post: parenting is not defined by the amount of time we spend physically with our children. We are parenting our children even while they are in school; what we teach them at home prepares them for their time away from us and reveals issues that we deal with when we are with them. Just some thoughts from a fellow Christian parent and, now, grandparent:) I try to encourage all of the parents in my life and I hope that we can support each other “across school lines” and remember that we fight the same enemy and it shouldn’t be each other.

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    • Thanks so much for taking the time to write and share your opinion. I’m genuinely glad that you feel freedom and joy in your educational choice with your own children. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced unkind rhetoric about school choice from some women in your life.

      A few thoughts in response:
      1). This post isn’t a compare and contrast essay on different schooling options. It’s a post about homeschooling and is meant to encourage those who already feel like it’s what they’re supposed to do.

      2). The post is not intended primarily for Christians, but for any and all homeschoolers. As such, I don’t get into the need to “love one another” and “consider others better than oneself” though I am a Christian myself. My intended audience is larger than those in my faith family.

      3). Going against the status quo is always a hard things to do, whether you’re starting a business, choosing to have a large family, or choosing a different way to educate your kids. People who choose a less well-traveled path encounter their own kinds of frustrations, fears, and joys. It’s just the way it is. Doesn’t make a particular choice universally better or worse. But this post was to encourage those who have chosen this difficult and different path. It’s not meant to discourage those who have chosen a more traditional route.

      4). Finally, unless you’ve actually homeschooled, you don’t know what it’s like to do it, day in and day out. I have three kids, but I wouldn’t look for blog posts about very large families and then say, “You all are trying to act like you’re parenting more than I am.” No, I would realize that while I, too, am a parent, and there are some things I very much have in common with large families, in other ways they are dealing with things I cannot really fathom. My choices are different from theirs. I respect the fact that they will receive both blessings and hardships I know nothing about because they are doing something on a larger scale than I am. This is OK, and doesn’t need to make me feel defensive.

      In the end, I don’t believe this post was hateful or divisive. It was meant to be an encouragement to those who may feel like giving up on a dream they had to teach their kids themselves. I can speak to this because I’m doing it myself. If anyone takes offense at this, it might mean that they feel insecure or are bringing past hurts to the discussion.

      Again, thanks for reading.

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