How to Fail at Homeschooling in Three Easy Steps

1 Mar 2005

by Marybeth Whalen

Proverbs 14:15, “A prudent man gives thought to his steps…”

I can still remember the day I put my kids in school after homeschooling them for five years. When I got home after I dropped them off that first day, a friend called to see how I was doing. “How was it?” she asked tentatively—apparently expecting tears and regret from me.

“Great!” I responded enthusiastically. “I barely slowed down at the curb to let them out of the car!” I went on to explain how euphoric I felt as I turned over my children’s education to other, much-more-capable people. I felt liberated that day and explained to my friend that I would be able to concentrate on my two little ones still at home now that my three older ones were tucked away at school. Surely this was the answer to all my problems.

The honeymoon, however, did not last long.

Little by little, school began to creep into our family life—invading in ways I had not anticipated. There were papers that needed signing, three teachers’ demands and three classroom schedules to keep up with. The phone rang nearly every day for some committee or volunteer commitment I was supposed to sign up for. “What about my two younger children?” I asked the ladies who called to enlist me. “What should I do with them while I am at the school?”

“Oh, well, don’t they go to preschool? You should sign them up for preschool so you can be free to volunteer. I know of a preschool that has openings if you’re interested.”

What happened to more time with my little ones? What happened to all the free time school was supposed to give me? The evening homework and endless outside commitments seriously limited the family time we had once taken for granted. Teachers, I discovered, did not care about the Christian concert you wanted to go to when you had (yet another) project due. Since we had never had kids in school, I simply wasn’t prepared for all of this.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call for me was one morning that my husband took the kids to school. As he returned home, he looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I hated leaving them there just now,” he told me. “I just feel like we have let go of the dream of the family we can be—only if we homeschool.”

I am happy to report that before the first semester was over, all three children were back home—living, learning, laughing (and crying) with us again. Our big school experiment was over. The children and I had to learn that the grass was not greener on the school side of the fence.

As I have reflected on that time in our lives, I have come to realize that I took three basic steps to becoming a homeschool failure. My hope is that, in sharing my mistakes, I will speak to the heart of some other mother who finds herself gazing a little too fondly at the big yellow school bus.

Step One: I took homeschooling one year at a time and did not commit to it long term. I saw it as an educational method and not a lifestyle. By doing this, I was able to see it for what it was worth only when I did not have it anymore. When you are able to commit to homeschooling only on a short-term basis, you lose the richness of embracing it as a lifestyle. Not only that, but the entire family has the added pressure of keeping up academically with the schools “just in case” homeschooling doesn’t work out.

Step Two: I focused on those around me. By trying to do school like my homeschooling peers or trying to keep up with my children’s friends, I turned my home into a silly race-to-the-finish, not a place of solace, contentment and refuge. Focusing outward—on the schools, on peers, on neighbors and on extended family members—only leads to defeat. It is better to focus inward—on our relationship with the Lord, with our spouse and children and on the atmosphere of our home.

Step Three: I lost my vision for homeschooling. Without a vision as to why you are homeschooling and what God has called you to do, your homeschool will perish just as mine did. The Bible says that we should, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run.” (Habakkuk 2:2, NASB) If you have lost your vision, spend time alone with God rediscovering the reason He called you to homeschooling. Reconfirm your commitment before Him; then write down what He has shown you and any special verses He gives you. Ask your husband and children why they like homeschooling and write down any encouragement they can provide. A friend of mine keeps a “Why I Homeschool” file filled with articles, quotes, verses, notes, etc., that encourages her. Go back to these things when your confidence is low and you are in danger of losing your vision.

The happy ending to this story is that my failure was only the beginning of our new and improved homeschool. I learned how not to homeschool and was able to start fresh—with a new attitude and a new commitment. Just remember: God will resurrect your homeschool just as He did mine. If you allow Him to change your perspective, He will redirect your steps toward success in Him!

Proverbs 37:23-24, “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” (NIV)

Marybeth Whalen, her husband, Curt, and their five children (with one on the way) live in Charlotte, NC. The family has always homeschooled.

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Misty's picture

Hi, I'd love to hear from you and how your family is doing these many years later. I am at a crossroads of whether to home school or send my children to private school.
Thank you

daisy4given's picture

I agree with the above commenter. I am at that point. I'd love to hear from your extra 9 years of wisdom since you wrote this post. I have filled out the admission form to school for my son more times than I can even count in the last month... I haven't got the nerve to mail it yet, but I'm afraid some day soon I will. The thing is, I don't want to stop homeschooling, I just want to stop homeschooling HIM. We have been homeschooling for the last two years (he has never been to any formal school). I have two younger children that are so much easier to homeschool. But my oldest child is just too difficult. It is getting to the point where it is tearing our relationship apart and causing ongoing tension in our family because he and I just cannot work together. Isn't it better to have a harmonious family than to cling to this idea of being a homeschooling family? I love homeschooling as a lifestyle, as an eduction method, and I really love it on the days that it is good, but those days are so few and far between anymore. I would rather send him to school and still have a happy family than to keep him at home to the detriment of our familial peace. I just don't know if it's time to set my pride aside and admit that I cannot do it. Any advice (and prayers!) would be much appreciated.

Michele's picture

This article is BEAUTIFUL!! I have struggling on if I am still doing the right thing by homeschooling and praying for some insight. I believe God has just answered me through your words. Thank you!!