Is Homeschooling a Sacred Cow?

Sacred cow

It’s August.

Everything in you wants to home school and everything in you doesn’t want to. Time is running out and tax-free weekend is coming up. You need to order curriculum and purchase supplies. A decision has to be made, and soon!

I faced this quandary throughout my 13 years as a homeschooling mom and here is where I ultimately landed: Homeschooling can’t be a sacred cow.

Miriam Webster defines a sacred cow as someone or something that has been accepted or respected for a long time and that people are afraid or unwilling to criticize or question.

For many moms, homeschooling is like this. We plunged headlong into homeschooling and experienced its many benefits:

  • Autonomy from public school bureaucracy
  • A relaxed schedule
  • Customizable lessons to suit each child’s learning style
  • More family time
  • Protection from “the world”

But for many moms, benefits shift and burdens take hold:

  • Juggling preschoolers while teaching older siblings
  • Caring for elderly parents
  • Motivating reluctant or challenged learners
  • Managing increasingly complex material
  • Moving to rural areas where there’s little support

I certainly faced all of these things in 1998 at the height of my career as a home educator. I had seven children and was pregnant. The oldest was  14 years old, so we had just begun wading into high school waters.

Then tragedy struck. Our newborn daughter Victoria died the day she was born from a chromosomal disorder. I fell into depression and finally faced reality: I could no longer home school the oldest three children. Andrea moved to public school after Christmas. Erica was admitted after Easter. Michael moved on to private school the following fall.

The other girls transferred in over the course of a few years until all were enrolled in public school eventually. The youngest was never home schooled, aside from being taught to read.

Let me be clear: home schooling was one of the best things I ever did, and I have no regrets. My children have wonderful memories of our time together and our Christian identity was anchored by the guidance, discipline, and nurturing home school offered us. I simply regret that I waited so long to realize that I had maxed out.

It’s almost like a dirty little secret many moms carry: we hate home schooling as much as we love it. Letting it go is like giving up sugar or putting down a beloved pet that’s too sick to live. It’s like a cow that gives us milk and cheese; and it’s like a bull in the china shop of our peace and sanity.

So if you are currently on the homeschooling fence, consider whether these things are keeping you from letting go.

1. Pride: Nobody wants to be a quitter, but if you choose to stop homeschooling it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It is definitely humbling to admit it’s not working out, or that you were wrong about your capabilities. Maybe you criticized other educational options and there’s a huge piece of humble pie waiting for you. I get it. I ate it. But if you’re clinging to home schooling to save face, it’s probably a sacred cow.

2. Fear: Many moms home school because they want to protect their children from negative influences in school settings. I home schooled for that reason, among others. But parenting requires vigilance no matter where your children learn Algebra. And many moms will tell you their kids have been exposed to terrible things at church or on the internet while doing research for a home school project. If you don’t think God can preserve your child’s heart anywhere, then home schooling might be a sacred cow.

3. Peer Pressure: This is a biggie. You probably have a posse of friends who home school. You co-op, go on field trips together, and share teaching and parenting tips. The camaraderie of the home schooling community is truly special and I miss it a lot. But just because your friends home school doesn’t mean you should. God will never guilt you into doing something because others believe it’s right. If a friend’s reaction has more power over you than doing God’s will for your household, home schooling is probably a sacred cow.

4. You love the IDEA of home schooling more than you love home schooling: This takes us back to the incredible blessings of nurturing children spiritually without opposing views to cloud their minds. It’s about customizing lessons without standardized testing ruling your decisions. It’s about curling up on the couch on a rainy day to read aloud instead of trudging to a bus stop. It’s about giving kids freedom to explore their interests, serve their neighbors, or get a job because your family life is flexible and you have more options.

As wonderful as all of this may be, it doesn’t mean you should home school. Home education requires a unique combination of discipline, intelligence, organization, and stamina that lots of moms think they have, but don’t actually have to the same degree over time.

I, for one, am highly disciplined and organized. I attended an Ivy league school, so I think I am smart enough to home school. I certainly adored the idea of it, but over time the burdens outweighed the benefits given the size of our family, the needs of our parents, and our location in rural Virginia where the nearest co-op was 45 minutes away.

But more than these external factors was the personal reality that I didn’t like teaching math and science (hence, no doctors or engineers in the Coleman family!). I hated feeling torn between the needs of babies and the needs of teens. I hated teaching the same material over and over, year after year. I got bored with it, truth be told.

And after Victoria died, I simply didn’t have the emotional energy to sustain my ideal life. I needed to heal emotionally, so it was me or the cow. The cow had to go.

Home schooling mothers are some of the most amazing people on the planet, but so are moms whose kids go to public and private schools. Don’t define yourself by where your children learn to read and write. Don’t allow fear to fuel such a vital decision. Instead, allow God’s Spirit to gently guide you.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11.28-30


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