Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why I regret homeschooling my boys

This morning after the school bus drove away with my boys, my husband headed off to work, and I finally got my fussy ten month old son down for his morning nap. I grabbed my much needed cup of coffee, plopped my oversized rump onto my big comfy couch and started aimlessly flipping through the TV channels. There wasn't a whole lot to choose from, but I eventually settled on Dr. Phil. I used to be a huge Dr. Phil fan. I watched his talk show religiously every single afternoon, no matter what the episode was about. I'm not sure when or why I stopped watching it, but if I had to guess it's probably because I spend way too much time on my iPhone/social media and therefore I just don't watch a lot of TV anymore.  Not to mention I have 10,000 kids so typically the only shows that play in our house are Lab Rats or Paw Patrol.

Today's Dr. Phil show was a re-run (pretty sure all of the morning shows are older episodes as they show multiple episodes back to back), but the topic was "Parents who unschool" or something like that, and it totally caught my eye and I found myself getting sucked into the whole homeschool discussion/debate. It evoked a lot of strong feelings and emotions in me, because as some of you may remember, I used to homeschool two of my boys, Mahlon and Peanut.  I get asked a lot of questions about why I chose to homeschool them, especially because my older three kids were never homeschooled and attended public school from the start.

I don't know that I ever really had a bright, blaring reason for homeschooling. I didn't have anything against the public school system, and in fact my mother was an incredibly talented, dedicated elementary school teacher (who would be rolling over in her grave if she knew I homeschooled her grandkids) but rather it was more of a apprehension or fear of putting my boys in public school that drove me to it. I went back and forth over what to do, right up until the day Mahlon was due to start Kindergarten, but for some reason, I just couldn't bring myself to enroll him in our local public school.  I was afraid, really truly afraid. To understand, I guess you'd have to know that Mahlon had a bit of a rough start in life. He was born with moderate hypotonia (low muscle tone) and a pronated stance. He was a late talker as well, and it quickly became impossible to deny that he wasn't developing on par with his peers. So, he spent the majority of his toddler years in multiple, intensive therapies through our local Early Intervention center. He went to physical, occupational and speech therapy four out of five days a week for over two years. I will admit that I became very protective over Mahlon. Over protective you could say. It doesn't help that he's always been a momma's boy, and he definitely knows how to work his mom with a quick bat of those big brown eyes, blond hair and angelic face. I had many momma bear moments when he was little, as he would occasionally get teased or taunted by other kids on the playground because he wore big bulky leg braces due to his physical disabilities.  He also struggled to do a lot of things that other kids could do with ease, because he lacked the strength and muscle control and that hurt my heart (still does).

The thought of sending my darling, precious, fragile little Mahlon to public school where he would be away from me for more than six hours a day and could possibly get picked on by other kids or get hurt on the playground and I wouldn't be there to protect him, was more than I could bear (think full blown panic attack into a brown paper bag), so I just sort of stumbled into homeschool, even though it wasn't exactly a passion of mine. Sure, I made it work, but I didn't really enjoy it. I joined a few online homeschool groups, researched various curriculum options and tried to convince myself that not only was I doing the right thing, I was doing a better thing. I told myself he was getting more one on one attention, and receiving a better education than those poor neglected public school kids. And in some ways, he probably was. Mahlon took off with reading and by the time he finished the first grade, he was reading at a third to fourth grade level.  He loved to learn and actually looked forward to his lessons, sometimes even begging me to do more.  He had the perfect attitude/temperament for homeschooling, but something still didn't feel quite right.

Before I knew it, Peanut had approached Kindergarten age and because Peanut and Mahlon are best friends and joined at the hip, it was just sort of a no brainer to homeschool him as well.  However, unlike Mahlon, Peanut was a challenge to teach. He is stubborn and head strong and if he doesn't want to do something, it's a struggle to get him to cooperate (there were many days I threatened to toss the TV and the iPad out the window if he didn't buckle down and get his work done). He was also a big distraction for Mahlon and the two of them would team up against me, and it became very difficult to get through our daily assignments.  There were days I felt confident that I was giving them an education similar to their public schooled peers, and then days where I felt like a huge, colossal failure, and worried that they could possibly even be falling behind. Still I soldiered on, partly out of fear, and partly because I felt like I had made a commitment to homeschooling them and felt like I owed it to the boys to continue.

 One of the big arguments/topics of debate regarding homeschool is socialization. You cannot homeschool without hearing this term at some point (it was definitely discussed on the Dr. Phil episode I watched today). I used to get very defensive whenever anyone would ask me if I worried about socialization.  I scoffed at the mere notion, especially because my two boys are extremely friendly and social and seemed to make friends wherever we went. They were the boys who had new friends within minutes of arriving at a playground, and other kids seemed to naturally gravitate towards my boys. However, those friendships never lasted longer than the playground and we would say goodbye and go back home, and the guilt would set in.  Unlike their older sister, my boys weren't getting invited to birthday parties and had nobody to invite to their own parties. Each birthday was spent with just a few family members and I told myself that was enough because by this point, Mahlon was in taekwondo a few days a week and Peanut was in soccer, so how much socialization did these boys really need?  I told myself that what I was doing was enough, but deep in my soul I knew that it wasn't. Their older sister would come home with art projects, birthday invitations, field trip forms and more, and my heart started to ache for my boys.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I think homeschooling is a fantastic, viable option for many families, and I hope it doesn't sound like I'm throwing my fellow homeschoolers under the big yellow bus. I know many families who successfully homeschool and their kids are happy, bright, well adjusted, and just all around thriving in life, so I know it can be a very positive experience as well. It just wasn't for me because I wasn't a good homeschool mom. In fact, I'm pretty sure I was a sucky one. Sure, I hammered through their daily lessons, and my boys were definitely learning. Mahlon was an advanced, vivacious reader and Peanut a budding mathematical genius. But it just wasn't possible for me to provide them with those social experiences because I'm a bit socially dysfunctional myself.  Unlike my boys, I'm actually a shy, reclusive homebody and I found it super difficult (terrifying even) to jump in and get involved in the various homeschool activities. I did sign the boys up for some Mad Science Workshops over the years and they LOVED them, but those only happened once every few months, and that just fed my guilt monster even more because it was obvious that my boys needed more than what I was providing at home. 

Various Mad Science Workshops over the years
Mahlon loved to participate and was always the first to raise his hand 
Peanut with his crazy homeschool hair
Mahlon just loved these workshops so much! 
Their last and final year of homeschooling, 
this was taken outside of the workshop building
Plus, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm not very artistic, crafty, Pinteresty or whatever you want to call it.  I don't know how to make a butterfly habitat out of a toilet paper roll, nor do I even want to try. I hate that kind of stuff. HATE IT! But my boys love art and they craved more hands on activities. The few artsy fartsy projects we did do, they were beaming from ear to ear and so excited to show my husband when he walked in the door from work. "Daddy LOOK what we made today" as they jumped up and down, proudly displaying their homemade project, with big smiles plastered on their faces. I don't have a lot of positive homeschool memories, but those are the moments I remember and cherish fondly. 

I started confessing my feelings and concerns to my husband and he being the supportive husband that he is, said he would support me no matter what I decided to do. He did agree that the boys needed more social interaction with other kids. Mahlon hung his head once and said, "Daddy, I don't have any friends to invite to my party" and it broke his heart (and mine) into millions of pieces. After many serious conversations we agreed that once we moved out of Portland and into a better school district, the boys would be going to public school. As luck would have it we moved last July to a smaller town, with a highly rated public school system and we prepared the boys that they would be going to "regular school" come September.  The boys had a few reservations but for the most part they were really excited, and that just confirmed that I was making the right decision. I was nearly in tears during back to school shopping, which they were typically excluded from.  The boys ran up and down the school supply aisles, tossing items from their list into the shopping cart with pure joy and glee. Watching them pick out back packs, lunch boxes, and new shoes, was one of the happiest days of my life. They were so excited....and just happy.

The days leading up to their first day of school was nerve wracking, I'm not going to lie, but I didn't allow myself to show any fear in front of the boys. I reassured them that everything was going to be okay, and you know what? It was!!! Not only was it okay, it was even better than we ever could've imagined.  The boys love their new school, their teachers, classrooms, classmates, they honestly love everything about being in a traditional school setting. They actually look forward to getting up and going to school. They are up bright and early every single morning, and they get dressed without complaining, and they count down the minutes until the school bus arrives (they love riding the school bus).  I've raised two teenagers and have one in junior high, so I'm well aware that this could change in the future and to enjoy it while it lasts.

The boys were so proud of their backpacks
 The boys checking out their new school a week before school started (they insisted on wearing their backpacks)
First week of school...they were so excited! 
The boys eagerly heading to the bus stop on a sunny September morning
Yesterday was their very first Valentine's Day in public school. They could not stop talking about their class parties. They came home with their decorated bags full of Valentine cards from their classmates, and guarded them if they were some kind of prized, breakable, valuable possession.  One of the many experiences they would've missed out on, if they were still at home with me. 

I realize that not everyone has these amazing, positive, rainbows and unicorns experience with public school, and we are very fortunate to live in an area with a highly rated, solid public school system. I'm also well aware that we may hit some hurdles in the future (bullies, peer pressure, teachers or curriculum we don't like or agree with, etc), but we will face those hurdles head on, should they occur.  Seanie Mac is only ten months old, but I've already decided that he will also start public school in Kindergarten. I will not allow fear to make decisions for me anymore. That's not to say that all homeschooled families choose to out of fear, but it was definitely the deciding factor in my case. I regret not pushing through that fear and placing the boys in public school from the start. I regret that the boys both missed out on Kindergarten and Mahlon missed those first few fun years of public school where free play and art projects are plentiful. 

Homeschooling is becoming a popular option these days and many families with young children are wondering if maybe it's right for them.  My advice to parents considering homeschooling is to seriously think long and hard, deep inside of your heart and soul to decide if you really have what it takes to be successful at it. Be totally and completely honest with yourself. Do you have the motivation, patience and enthusiasm to teach your child day in and day out, even when you're tired, sick, frustrated?  Are you willing to get out of your house and get your child involved in co-ops, play dates, field trips? Are you willing to spend many hours of your personal downtime after the kids go to bed planning and organizing lesson plans, art projects, different curriculum options?  Will you still want to homeschool as your kids get older, and the subjects aren't so fun or easy anymore?  And the biggest question, are you doing this for your child or for you?

For me, the answer to these questions were pretty easy to answer once I got real with myself, and realized that I just didn't have it in me to keep going, so I didn't. If you're like me, and you're already homeschooling and it's not working out as planned, please don't feel guilty for choosing not to continue. I had some guilt at first, and worried that I was quitting, or abandoning my boys by sending them off to school, but in reality I did the best thing for them and I have no regrets (other than wishing I had done it sooner). This parenting gig is overwhelmingly hard, full of difficult decisions and choices we must make along the way. Sometimes you just have to follow what your gut or heart is telling you to do, as there are no easy answers, unless of course it's to the obvious like, "Hey mom, can I have this Fun Dip for dinner?"

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