In my travels this weekend I began to think about my family, my children, and my parenting choices. My husband and I have decided to homeschool our children, ages 5,4,3 and 11 mos. We prayed and discerned, argued for and against it with each other, studied and researched, and talked to everyone we could think of, in making this decision. I realized that the both the most positive and negative examples to me about homeschooling were some of the mothers I had met along my way who had been homeschooling their children right along.
When my husband and I first got engaged, like so many Catholic couples, we began to discern children (e.g. when to have them, how many to have, and how we would raise them 'according to the Faith'). I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to send my children to public school. The school system had been one of the worst governmental flops in our nation's history, and I was not about to subject my children to it. I wanted to send my children to parochial schools, to learn the Faith, to receive a quality Catholic education, and to have an overall successful educational experience. My husband agreed with me and we seemed decided. We found out in our first year of marriage that I was pregnant with our first child, and the issue of education came up once again. At that time we were newly married and young, and there was no money in our budget for a very expensive Catholic education (ah, those great plans!) Even with financial aid, we couldn't afford the costs of Parochial school. We both still knew that public school was right out for obvious moral and academic reasons. I began to discern homeschooling and found it to be a daunting commitment. I was trepidatious about being the sole provider of my son's educational future and was worried about the commitment to my time (having a part time job to help support our family).
A few of my girlfriends and I were at lunch one day when the subject of homeschooling came up. My closest friend began to tell us her joys of homeschooling, which she had recently begun to do with her daughter. I could tell that she was having success at homeschooling, and also through her portrayals I knew that she was diligent, organized, committed, and prepared for her daughter's education. I also felt my heart sink when I realized that I didn't have any of those traits and that I couldn't homeschool nearly as well (or well at all) as she was doing. I began to tell the group about my husband's and my discernment about homeschooling, and how we wanted to send our children to Catholic school but couldn't find a way to afford it. At this point my friend who was homeschooling looked across the table at me and said "Well, if you want to send your child's soul to Hell, then go ahead and do anything but homeschool them." Those words cut like a knife, and sent me reeling. What mother could ever send their child to Hell? Why would my friend so carelessly say something like that? And the more that I went with her to her Catholic homeschooling group, the more I realized that she wasn't alone in her premise. The majority of the mothers I met through this group shared this idea: "If you weren't homeschooling your child, you were going to destroy their soul." They tended to look down on parents who sent their kids to the local Catholic School, and the parents of public school children were the object of terrible gossip and slander. I soon left the group, and continued to wander my way through the pregnancy and infancy of my son. I didn't want to homeschool after this experience for fear that I'd turn out to be like these mothers that I had met.
My husband and I joined our local Catholic Parish and made friends with some of the other families there who had children our own family's ages. We were delighted that these families shared our love of the Faith, and were also discerning the best way to raise their children in the Faith. I was drawn to one of the mothers in particular. She had already decided to homeschool her sons (the oldest of whom was the exact same age as my oldest and wasn't even crawling yet.) She was so simple, so humble, and so incredibly smart (a Ph.D who had resigned from her head scientist position at Pfiezer upon learning she was pregnant to "stay home" and raise her children). She made me realize that homeschooling was a viable option when it came to choosing how to educate your children. She showed me through her love of children and her family that she was not out to win awards or even promote her children's academcis so much as she was simply doing what she felt the Lord was calling her to do. I learned so much from her and befriended her in the hopes that I could support her and her family in their decisions to homeschool. My boys became friends with her boys and our husbands got along as well. Through her example I realized that I could homeschool too, and that it didn't have to be in a "cookie cutter" style, but to find the way to genuinely love and minister to my family through schooling them at home. This girlfriend and I joined the Catholic Homeschooling group that I had fled from in my first experience, and I was able to reconcile with my girlfriend (who was able to accept me now that I was homeschooling:) and we became good friends again.
Through these two examples of homeschooling I would say that there is such a wide array of homeschooling styles and options. Homeschooling should be a unique experience to each family, just as each family is unique unto itself. And I would find that if the family is homeschooling predominately for Catholic reasons then be extremely careful when viewing "the rest of the world". We should lead out in our example in a spirit of gentleness and humility. After all, many are called and few are chosen. But we shouldn't pride ourselves in that, but take it in extreme humility and thankfulness. I've seen parents who have sent their kids to public school from kindergarten through 12th grade, whose children are now entering the priesthood and religious life. And I've seen homeschooling families whose children don't even speak to their parents anymore. I homeschool because, together with my husband, we've discerned that it is the best choice for our family and for our children. I'm not out to win any awards or to prove any points, but to serve what is in the best interests for my children. I try not to be condescending in my choices to those who may not otherwise have thought of it, and I pray for those who persecute me for my choices. But mostly I just sit back and let my family witness for itself. My children are happy, well-loved, and are loving and compassionate in return. I hope that speaks volumes more than I ever could on this subject:)