I spoke to the mother of a large family the other day who told me she dreads the beginning of the school year. Although she has been teaching her children for many years, she still chafes at the responsibility and lack of freedom to pursue her own interests. She understands the importance and will continue to home school, but has not yet received the grace to accept her sacrifices and struggles with peace and serenity. Perhaps she never will. After all, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta accomplished most of her work feeling that God had abandoned her in prayer. None of us really knows the sacrifices we will be called to make for the Kingdom of God, but we must strengthen our resolve to accept them.
Many readers of this newsletter are new home schoolers. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, newbies often look at home education as an adventure, filled with interesting projects and fun class trips. As days go by, the reality of arithmetic drills and book reports sets in, and mom wonders why her children are not as well behaved as those nice home schoolers she read about. Sadly, my experience tells me that many home schoolers decide they are doing something wrong, or are just not cut out for home schooling, and put the children back in school. This happens most often when mom has little or no support from dad, the extended family, or friends.
To me, this is a terrible tragedy. Home schooling is not essentially about better academics, or remaining safe from drugs and promiscuity. Home education is ultimately about the souls of our children. Although there are a few precious schools scattered across the country that will work hard to assist you in raising your children to be saints, the vast majority simply will not.
Teaching our children at home is the single most important action we can take to ensure that we pass on our Catholic values to our children. There is really no acceptable substitute for it and most home schoolers realize that. We just wish it were not quite so hard. We wish our spouses, family and friends agreed with us and assisted us. We wish our children were more cooperative, our houses less messy, and we could do it all in an hour each day. We see our neighbors going for coffee after dropping off their children at the school bus stop and we wonder how many years will pass before we can have some free time too.
Because Western society has drifted so far from family values, moms are bombarded with reasons they should give it all up and enroll the children in school. In the case of a large family, parents are told they cannot possibly give all those children adequate attention. Parents of fewer children become convinced the kiddies need to go to school to learn socialization skills. Children are being “cheated” if they do not get to play on a school sports team or orchestra. Mom and dad do not have the academic background to provide a first- rate education. On days when everything seems to be going wrong, these objections give parents an escape clause and they enroll the children in school.
Every week of my employment with Seton, almost every day, I speak to parents who deeply regret putting their children into brick and mortar schools. Little girls in the second grade get off the school bus crying because they don’t have the right brand sneaker or jacket. Boys model themselves after the “cool kids” and start spouting vulgar language or exhibiting defiant behavior. Yeah and huh replace ma’am and sir pretty quickly.
Rarely do parents regret home schooling, but many of them have trouble seeing the rewards that will come after years of drill, review, testing, disciplining, and trying to fit chores somewhere in the day. Never forget, you can call a Seton counselor for help and support, but when you are feeling isolated, overwhelmed, unappreciated, and doubtful of your abilities, pray to St. Paul and especially meditate on the third and fourth chapters of his Second Epistle to Timothy.
At the beginning of Chapter 3, St. Paul describes the terrible times of the last days in terms that sound chillingly like our own time. Then he recalls his own sufferings for the gospel, and plainly states that everyone who seeks to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Not some people might be, not a number of persons could be, but rather everyone will be persecuted. For some of us, this persecution might come from within. We are tortured, not by men, but by our own doubts, fears, frustrations, and despair.
St. Paul reminds Timothy—and us—not to despair, but to keep calm in all situations, to endure the hardships we are given, and to discharge all our duties. A priest once told me that when he entered the priesthood, he was told to give up all hope of retiring in this world, that he “would be squeezed like a lemon until all the juice is gone.” St. Paul speaks of being poured out like a libation waiting for his final moments. Having fought the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith, Paul was eagerly awaiting his crown of glory in heaven. He promises the same crown to “all who have longed” for Christ.
Shell-shocked new home schoolers and battle-scarred veterans do well to recall often this promise. After over two decades of teaching my children, I am seeing many rewards right here on earth. My adult children go to Mass and Confession; they are raising their children in the faith; they are home schooling; they enjoy time spent with their parents and with one another. What a tremendous blessing!
The greatest blessing is yet to come. If we keep the faith, the Lord will be true to His promise and bring us and our children into His heavenly kingdom. What effort is too great for such a reward? God bless you all during this coming school year.