By Jeanne Faulconer, South Hill
Originally published in the March-April 2007 VaHomeschoolers Voice
Have you got the Homeschool Guarantee in hand? Go look through your files. I’ll wait. Didn’t find it? Although you can’t put your hands on the hard copy, many of us have a mental image of a Homeschool Guarantee: If you invest hours reading to your children, help them achieve their highest potential by understanding and playing to their individual learning styles, help them set goals and understand how to achieve them, immerse them in family dinners, imbue your faith or philosophical values into every aspect of your daily life, give them music lessons/sports/art/crafts, then you will get children who score high on the SAT, get into competitive colleges, becomes Olympic competitors, embody your family’s religious or philosophical beliefs, and can sew their own home furnishings.
Your version of the Homeschool Guarantee may vary slightly, perhaps involving home run records, a best-selling novel, a record deal, Wall Street success, a humanitarian award, or “just” a large family with your child featured as the now-grown homeschooling mom or dad.
Our dreams and aspirations for our children seem so much more certain since we are homeschooling. We do see the wonderful benefits of family-based learning. We see how connected our children become or remain within our families, how they love to learn. We see their independence and their abilities blossom. We are fully engaged in our opportunity to value and enhance their talents and help them address their weaknesses.
So, where DID I put that Homeschool Guarantee?
My oldest son is nearly 19 and has been in South America since September. When I consider his age, I realize I’ve been homeschooling thing for a long time, and I’ve met a lot of homeschooling families due to our moves, my internet networking, my writing about homeschooling, and speaking at conferences and workshops. Some of those families with older children and adult (formerly homeschooled) children seem to have gotten the Guaranteed Results they expected. The results are so striking that they perpetuate a mental guarantee for the rest of us.
But some families I meet are struggling to come to grips with “results” that are very different from the Homeschool Guarantee they internalized. A mom is perplexed by a kid who seemed bound to be an engineer but has gotten side tracked by his interest in art. Or vice versa. A dad can’t believe his soccer prodigy decided to “throw away” a chance at a college scholarship because “college is not for me right now.” Unplanned pregnancies, substance abuse, emotional upheaval, mental health challenges, inability to balance helping others with appropriate self-interest, changes in career or college plans, and rejection of parents’ dearly held religious beliefs are among the many circumstances I’ve heard about that did not live up to the Homeschool Guarantee. Yes, “it” happens even among homeschool families.
It surely seems unfair. Homeschooling parents invest so much in the nitty-gritty of parenting. They’ve outsourced so little for so many years – from shoe tying and Popsicle stick crafts to chauffeuring and long division. And we’ve seen so many good results. It does seem to be reasonable to conclude that homeschooling increases kids’ chances to lead productive, independent, pursuit-of-happiness lives. And I DO conclude that. Certainly, my travels, my personal experience, various studies’ results, and anecdotes that tell wide ranging “success stories” indicate the odds seem in homeschoolers’ favor. We know, in general, that parental involvement is an indicator of how kids will “do,” and homeschooling usually means that there has been a very high level of parental involvement. So, even though we have determined that the Homeschool Guarantee is not worth the paper it’s written on, we do know that our homeschooling our kids greatly shifts the odds in their favor.
But it must be said in plain terms. Homeschooling is NOT a guarantee.
In some cases, parents suddenly realize the lack of guarantee because an older child makes his own choices that differ from their preferences. The choices might not actually be unhealthy or unreasonable –but because they are different from parental expectations, the parent laments that the investment in homeschooling has been for naught. I will never forget the sadness with which a young man told me he had disappointed his parents by not going to college because he wanted to be a mechanic. And I will never forget a mom in another family who told me how proud she was of her son who was attending technical school and working as an apprentice to learn a highly-valued trade –being a mechanic!
So sometimes the dissonance occurs between parents and older children even when there is not an inherently wrong choice — but just a choice that does not reflect parents’ precise goals for their children. Parents who hope to maintain a healthy relationship with older children and their young adults need to start early in examining the issues of “control” and authority over their children’s vocational and higher education choices. Just like parents of schooled children, parents of homeschooled children need to consider whether they are projecting their own “missed opportunities” or their own need to feel validated by their children’s choices. If you “need” your child to enter a more competitive college or to have a more prestigious career, the choice may be more about you, the parent, rather than your child. How many adults our own age do we know who are still living with the consequences of making choices to please their parents rather than following their own heart-felt desires, interests and abilities?
Of course, guidance is not to be thrown out the window. Our getting-older kids do need our knowledge about making a living, making moral choices, and the consequences of our actions. But I wonder if homeschooling parents, who have had so much influence over their children over so many years, have an even harder time with “letting go”? I know that it seems to be a constant dance for me and my teenagers: trying to help them identify and reach goals without being overly-directive, meanwhile smiling to myself when I get an Instant Message from the son in Ecuador with a post that begins, “I need some parental guidance on something I’ve been thinking about.” We are at that point where I can give the guidance — but since I am on another continent, I am in no position to “enforce” it, even if I wanted to.
Even more difficult to negotiate are our older and adult children’s forays into questions of personal morality and their opportunities to participate in risky behaviors. Again, for so long, as homeschool parents we have had our children close to us and could provide so much good counsel – as well as limiting their opportunities for choices that would cause them problems. And oh, what grief when a child-turned-young-adult makes dismaying choices that cause real trouble. Even the fear of this happening – the very possibility – has jarred me awake in the middle of the night, with the most frightening conclusion coming to me — I will not be able to control the actions and choices that my children make once they are “launched” – and maybe my influence will be so diminished or dismissed that it will carry very little weight.
Parents may verge into self-blame for their ineffectiveness if this happens: “If only we had done it better.” Parents may experience a real sense of loss or grief if this happens – they have not only lost “control,” they may have lost the dreams for how they believed their little boy or little girl would grow up and live life. They also may feel a real sense of betrayal – didn’t the Homeschool Guarantee promise that this would not happen?
I recently corresponded with a homeschool mom who has grave concern about her adult child’s choices. Her son is kind and loving, but often finds himself without enough money to pay his bills or meet his obligations because he has given it to friends “in need” who do not manage their own resources well. She knows – though he does not see – that his ability to help his friends will be curtailed sooner or later because he is a poor manager of his own finances. Throughout their homeschooling years, she felt sure that providing her son with an education at home (complete with financial management instruction!) would safeguard him from such dilemmas.
This mom’s thoughts made me think of some exceptions to the mythical Homeschool Guarantee. It’s all there in the fine print:
- Adult children have free will.
- Adult children can make big mistakes, even if they have been responsibly parented.
- Sometimes all you can do is all you can do.
- If a homeschool parent’s personal sense of self-worth is solely or mostly related to how his or her homeschooled children “turn out” and what their choices are, the parent is at a lot of emotional risk.
- Young adults have widely varying abilities to make mature decisions and continue to develop “at their own rate.”
- Achievement of independence requires parents to allow and encourage independent decision-making, ideally developed incrementally over time – and sometimes this will result in kids’ making choices that parents disagree with.
Homeschooling parents with an interest in how their relationship will change with their children over the years might be interested in the book The Eight Seasons of Parenthood: How the Stages of Parenting Constantly Reshape Our Adult Identities by Barbara Unell and Jerry Wyckoff. While not specifically a homeschooling book (and you’ll note some divergence from “our” experiences because of that), it provides helpful perspective for accepting our roles in parenting older children, young adults and adults -as well as addressing earlier stages of parenting. Other books that parents of teens and young adults have found helpful are Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Coburn & Madge Treeger and, highly recommended by some parents who have experienced difficulties with their teens, Parent- Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach by Mira Kirshenbaum and Charles Foster.
Books and resources can provide insight and ideas for coping with challenges as our young adults become more independent. But perhaps the best coping begins with development of acceptance of this truth: while homeschooling is an excellent way to prepare children for life, no matter how hard you look, you will never find a Homeschool Guarantee.
About the Author
Jeanne Faulconer and husband Rick are the parents of one homeschool grad and two sons still learning at home. She is the former editor of VaHomeschoolers Voice and enjoys writing and speaking about homeschooling.
Originally published in the March-April 2007 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
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