We were at Penokee Mountain Cooperative School last week and a fellow homeschooling parent kindly shared with me that she had found some of my writing in a previous post to be helpful. In that post, I wrote that my relationship with my children is the foundation of my homeschooling, and that there might be circumstances in which I would consider public school for my children if I thought that it would be helpful for some reason. As parents, in our decision to homeschool, we need to consider what is best for the whole family (that includes the parents). Something in those statements had struck a chord with this particular mom. Her kids have decided that they want to try going to public school, and she and her husband have decided to let them try it this spring. Although the mom feels some misgivings at the thought of potentially no longer homeschooling, it is something her kids are curious about and she feels that she needs to honor their interest and wish to try it out for a bit.
I would like to share with you the story I was thinking about when I wrote about considering the needs of the whole family. I used to work as a pediatric physical therapist, which means not only working with children but also working with their parents and even getting to know siblings. It can be very intense work. When I was first working (oh dear – 25 years ago!) I cut an article out of a magazine because its message ‘struck a chord’ with me. It was written by the mother of a child who had severe mental and physical handicaps. I lost the article years ago, but I still remember the boy’s name: Michael. At a time when people with disabilities were being de-institutionalized, this woman and her husband chose to have their son live in an institution. Why? Because Michael’s needs were enormous. He COULD live at home, the parents COULD care for him, but his care overwhelmed the whole family and took much-needed parental time away from his siblings. She struggled with the decision, and she struggled with criticism from other people, but the way she explained it was something like this: Maybe home was the best place for Michael, but when he was home, home wasn’t the best place for anyone else. That comment really made an impression on me. We are so quick to judge other people’s decisions. How could anyone place their son in an institution? Why wouldn’t they do everything they could to raise him at home? But this wise woman knew that she needed to consider the needs of everyone in the family, not just one person’s. She also wrote that she dreamed of seeing her son out running and playing ball with her other kids, yet at the same time she knew that if he could do that, he wouldn’t be the same boy. “Michael wouldn’t be Michael if he was not disabled.” Wow. I have used that idea often to help get through a difficult time, especially when my kids were younger. When my daughter was up for hours at night screaming – I mean exercising her lungs – I would sometimes think, “My daughter wouldn’t be who she is if she was not so tenacious”. Sometimes we have to cope however we can!
The homeschooling mom that I talked with also shared with me that it is hard for her to let go of homeschooling; being a homeschooling mom is a big part of her identity. I think all of us as homeschoolers can understand that. Even when my family was involved with a charter school (one that is similar to a virtual school), I felt like I was a homeschooler. That was hard for me to let go of, to admit that my children were enrolled in public school*. Homeschooling is such a strong part of my identity. But I like what this mom also said to me: “Going to school for the next two months IS my children’s homeschooling.” Yes. Because they are making decisions as a family for the family. Because she and her husband are giving their children choices, and really listening to what they are saying.
(*In order to maintain our homeschooling freedoms, it is imperative that we as homeschoolers maintain a clear distinction between homeschooling and public-school-sponsored virtual schooling which takes place at home. More info here.)