I am very aware that this is the last full day of school for most of my children. It’s quiet, they are engaged elsewhere, and I am only emergency backup. I am ashamed to feel what I used to scorn in others–dread of summer vacation, of so much sudden family togetherness. Ashamed because for many years I was a homeschool mom–the kind of mom that wanted to be with her children, chose to spend almost all waking hours engaged with them, and missed them when they went to Grandma’s house or music camp. Who didn’t call, “Bye honey! Have a good day at school! I love you!” and rush off to work where she could do important things and get recognized and paid for it. Or off to zumba class, out to catch up with the ladies over coffee before the Bible study or empowerment group, or to get her hair done, while the house cleaner took care of the toilets and the landscapers edged the lawn.
I used to promote homeschooling as a rich and natural way of life, invite young mothers and doubting mothers of public school kids to consider it, lend them books, cite the research; my husband would point out that it is a choice of the privileged, and name the high-earning professions of all our close homeschooling friends–medicine, psychology, veterinary medicine, software, finance. But no, there were plenty of others, I’d argue, whom we didn’t see much because they lived out in the county. People who had chosen to live on a single income and struggle financially to maintain closeness with their children, pass on family values, and oversee a quality individualized education that included skills training and opportunities not available to the public school child. He’d point out that home schoolers were turning their backs on public school kids, who only suffered when families with a high value for education and the time and energy to facilitate it left the system. I’d argue that parents are first responsible for their own families and also that most of homeschooled kids I knew grew up serving other kids as sought after babysitters, active community members, world explorers, activists, scholars, and devoted family members, and would affect culture in new ways after having traveled a different, more independent path. He’d point out that school provided a healthy competition, schedules, structure, deadlines, just like the real world, as well as sports and recess. I said I didn’t want our children to depend on extrinsic motivation to want to learn, and we’d do sports and recess too.
Are you feeling uncomfortable with this portrayal of conflict? I’d like to insert some soothing words, a comforting story of how my husband and I always eventually came to consensus. We usually did, but not always with hugs and kisses. We agreed that for certain seasons of our family life, homeschooling was a good choice. We were definitely not smug. We had seasons of some kids in school, some at home, full time, part time, structured and unstructured learning, group and individual, tutors and community classes. Sometimes the kids’ main subject was stress management, as we left our friends, moved overseas, learned a new language, lived without a personal vehicle, ran out of money, and came home to take our youngest son to an eye surgeon and get jobs. That crazy decision is turning out well after all, with our kids wanting to travel, reaching out to international students, having something unique to list on their college applications.
An interviewee I heard on CBC Radio, can’t remember the field he was in, whether philosophy or psychotherapy or neurology, said humans do things entirely based on how their genes drive them, then the brain makes meaning of it, justifies, judges, and ultimately sees these actions as conscious choices, when they are not, as such. I’m driven to struggle in the direction of nurturing my family in this particular way, certain genes being turned on in response to my internal and external stimuli, I observe and follow those desires, then in hindsight construct a philosophy around what I have done and feel inclined to do. Not necessarily a self-satisfied one–like so many parents I construct a layer of self-doubt, perceive obstacles, generate convictions and confidence that drive me to overcome them, experience a sense of success or failure. The fact that others in seemingly similar circumstances make different choices and have different convictions is merely an expression of healthy diversity in the human gene pool, and the interactions of the sets of genes in each individual as they contact one another. I turn on (or off) your genes, and it’s mutual–don’t you feel it?
I say, whatever. Determinism in biology is like predestination in religion–I’m not determined or predestined to believe in either, it seems. Still, I’ll embrace the possibility that what I’m doing is only natural and relax a bit, but at other times accept the presence of angst and inner conflict as necessary precursors to growth and positive reorientation. I have no idea if we’ve done the right thing with our kids, but as my genes have determined, I’ll look on the bright side of life, with an abiding shadow of self doubt, some fear, some anticipation, and set the table for dinner.