Let’s talk about homeschool failure.
Homeschool parents are quick to put up a front of niceties, rainbows and roses, smiling faces, and rapid-fire assurances that everything is great.
It may be leftover defensiveness from our earlier days of explaining to negative critics (sometimes in our own families), or it may be that old river in Egypt, but let me tell it to you straight, sister,
Not everything is always great in anyone’s homeschool.
You may not always see it on Pinterest, or scroll by it on Facegram, but there are mamas who are struggling big time over this monumental decision to homeschool their little babies.
And since you’re here? Well, maybe that mama is you.
I’ve been there, she’s been there, you’ve been there. So let’s be honest with one another and help each other pull up our big girl panties.
Awkward? Yes, probably. But necessary!
Is Your Homeschool Failing? Red Flags & Warning Signs
How can you tell if your homeschool endeavor is failing? It may 100% obvious, but sometimes it just the niggling doubts.You know the ones. The ones that keep you from falling asleep at night, and the ones that make you wonder if you shouldn’t ask your doctor about fillintheantiaxietymedofyourchoicehere.
The little worries, well, let’s face it, they come with the territory. No mama ever did not worry that she was messing up her kids. And it’s not exclusive to homeschooling! It’s just a mama thing. We were made to worry and overthink.
Most of the time we go so far in the opposite direction (trying desperately not to do what we fear we might) that if we were to ask our grown kids later about it, they’d likely either burst a gut laughing, give you a confused expression, or calmly tell you they had the exact opposite experience. So, let’s let those small things go.
A few examples that are a bit more of red flags would include:
- Kids rebelling
- Spouse uncooperative or even hostile to homeschooling
- Daily arguments over schoolwork, especially when it involves yelling, tears, and/or volatile behavior
- Homeschooling while working full-time (not impossible, but very difficult)
- Homeschooling out of fear. Fear of traditional public school, fear of judgement from homeschooling friends, fear of disappointing your parents if you were homeschooled, fear that your child would fail in regular school if you weren’t there to save them, the list goes on
- Unschooling that became interest-led schooling that became … well, no schooling at all
Let’s look at these warning signs one a time, taking deep breaths, calming the butterflies in our stomachs at the ones that describe us perfectly.
Red Flag #1: Kids rebelling
Every kid here and there rebels against something they’re told to do. It’s human nature. I’m 41 and I do it too. So we’re not talking about small rebellion here and there, or dragging of their little feet when it comes time to unload the dishwasher or prep for the SAT.
No, we’re talking full-on World War III when it comes to your relationship. Are there shouting matches? Daily tears? Stomach aches (typically a sign of major stress and anxiety in little ones)? Hiding textbooks, faking illness, kicking walls, punching things, saying that they’re stupid, harming themselves or you?
Or maybe – gulp – you’re the one more guilty of those behaviors. Are you constantly yelling, slamming doors, crying in the bathroom, beginning to dislike your kids, beginning to dislike yourself and who you’ve become during this supposedly blessed and beautiful journey we call homeschooling?
If that’s the case, mama, you need to step back. Way back.
Quit homeschooling immediately.
I’m not joking.
Maybe it’s just for a week, to regroup, or maybe it’s for forever.
The relationship you have with your babies is so much more important than where they go to school or who teaches them algebra.
If your house isn’t a soft place for you and your children and your spouse to fall, then something needs to change.
Whether it’s trying public school for a while, or asking someone else to tutor them in the subject that has caused the most distress, or completely redoing your entire homeschool, it’s up to you to make the change. You are the adult. Today is the first day that it all gets better if you make the decision, I promise.
If the rebellion and anger has gotten so out of hand that even more drastic measures need to be taken, then please reach out. Unfortunately a lot of abuse have taken place behind the covenant walls of homeschooling, and that’s something that needs to change. If you are hurting your kids or they are hurting you, please reach out to a pastor, a friend, a loved one, an emergency service, and get help.
Red Flag #2: Spouse Uncooperative or Hostile
Not every wife or husband in the Land of Christian or Secular Homeschooling Land (it’s a club. We have memberships. And uniforms. Join us?) will agree with me on this one, but I’m just gonna say it and I’m not gonna candy coat it, ok?
If your spouse isn’t on board or is even hostile and detrimental to homeschooling, you should not be homeschooling.
There. I said it. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Yes, you believe in it mightily, this homeschooling thing. You wanted to do it even before you became a mother/father. You read all the books, you saw the success stories, you prepared and got organized. Your friends are doing it, you love everything about it. You joined the co-ops, paid your dues, bought the blackboard and curricula.
But Mr. or Mrs. Homeschooling hates everything about it and fights you every step of the way.
Now is not the time to berate anyone for not having these discussions before the little ones arrived via stork, so let’s not try to change the past. Or maybe he or she WAS on board in the beginning, but for whatever reason, things have changed. The excitement has cooled to a bone-chilling degree when it comes to their passion.
Before you acquiesce to their demands or silent pleading, let’s make sure that it isn’t something that could be fixed!
Try to take the defensiveness out of your tone, take them out to their favorite meal, and have an honest talk. Listen, really listen, to their concerns. It may be things you’d never even thought of, or maybe it’s a conversation or complaint you’ve heard a hundred times. These are their children too, and they have a right to make their voices heard.
Women especially, and I’m going to put this out there, Christian homeschooling women especially, have a strong tendency to parent their children as they see fit, and if Dad can’t get in line, well, they’ll just pray for him.
Now that the aired has cleared and you have heard where the problems are, can they be fixed? Does the spouse who’s been dragging their feet just want more say in the homeschool? Does he want them to have opportunities to play sports? Does he miss his wife because she’s spread so thin homeschooling (even if it’s mostly joyful)?
If they cannot be fixed, hear this, mama, perfectly happy and well adjusted children go to school everyday.
It’s so much more important to have a healthy marriage than it is to stubbornly plant your feet in the mud because you just have to be the one in charge and the one who is right.
And remember this: children see everything. Do you know what it’s like as a small child to know for a fact the reason Dad and Mom don’t love each other is because of them? Because that’s how they’ll see it, I promise. They won’t mind spending a bit of time in public school if it means their parents can get back on track.
And the amazing thing about getting your marriage back on track? You’ll become one again. And people who are one? Well, they don’t argue about homeschooling …
Red Flag #3: Daily Arguments
Similar to what we covered above, but less volatile, daily arguments are just that:
In short, all of those and everyday.
Most kiddos aren’t going to jump for joy when the math books comes out, or maybe yours freezes when it’s spelling time, but if it’s everyday Monday through Friday, no escape, less than no joy, then I feel for you, mama bear. This wears on the soul like nothing else. Talk about sucking all the happiness out of the air and all of the cheer out of your heart, right? Here you are, trying to do what’s best for your child, and they hate you for it.
No good deed goes unpunished, am I right?
But let’s step back and try to figure out where their resistance is coming from. If they’re old enough to have this conversation, then have it! Similar to the conversation the homeschooling parent above had with their hostile spouse, ask calmly and without fear of repercussion, what it is they dislike so strongly about their lives.
Is it the way you teach? The way you don’t teach? Do they miss their friends or feel like they’re missing out? Did something happen that changed the way they felt about homeschooling? Do they feel stupid or unmotivated or small or unchallenged?
Can it be fixed to everyone’s satisfaction? Most likely it can be, but it will take work on everyone’s sides of the fence.
Red Flag #4: Homeschooling While Working Full Time
Homeschooling your kids while working outside (or inside) of the home isn’t impossible, but it’s only going to be successful IMO when your kids are older. Old enough to have set a pattern of behavior and organization, a foundation of sorts.
If they can read well, can be trusted online without supervision, and are old enough to be left home alone, then those rare teens who basically homeschool themselves while you’re earning bread to put on the table, can make it work. But it’s the exception, not the rule.
I’ve known moms who were so determined to homeschool no matter what, come hell or high water, that when the circumstances in their lives took a turn, they refused to back down or adjust. I get it. I’m super stubborn too.
Case in point: I’m related to General George Armstrong Custer. When I found that out, my husband burst out laughing and said, now I know where you get your stubbornness and your refusal to admit you were wrong!
Haha, laugh it up, Mr. Williams.
Anyway, here’s the thing: lives change. People change. We don’t get the children we ordered up from Heaven, but instead the ones we were meant to have. Your spouse may leave you a single mom. Your spouse may die. You may not be able to make ends meet on one salary. You may have a career you adore and are not ready to give up.
These things happen, and they effect your homeschooling. Sometimes we have to roll with the changes and make adjustments to the best of our ability, instead of crossing our arms in front of our chests like petulant children and refusing to budge from The Life We Thought We Had.
Remember: seasons change. They don’t last forever. If you’re a single parent now, it doesn’t mean you always will be. If getting out of debt takes a year of you working full time, or you could get a lot done if you just took advantage of preschool for a year, you can always come back to homeschooling.
Twelve years per child of academics is a lot, mama! There are plenty to go around, trust me.
Red Flag #5: Homeschooling Out of Fear
I see this one a lot, and on the surface, it doesn’t seem toooooo bad. I mean, even if the reasons are wrong and the motivation is skewed, you’re still making the best decision to homeschool, right?
Well, maybe not.
Homeschooling out of fear starts you off in a dark place. That’s no good place to start running a race. Ask yourself truly why you wanted to homeschool in the first place, and evaluate your answers honestly.
I’m scared of school shootings and other violent acts.
The truth of the matter is, that can happen anywhere. At the mall, at the park, at the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, with your neighbors, at your grandparent’s house, for goodness sake. This is not to say that this isn’t a good reason to homeschool, because it totally is! It just can’t be your only reason.
All my friends/family/church homeschools and I’ll feel like an outcast or a failure if I don’t too.
Feeling like an outcast or a failure kinda comes with the whole parenting gig. You won’t shake that off just because you’re doing what someone else wants you to be doing. It’s really hard to stay motivated with something you’re not truly in love with.
I’m afraid of disappointing my parents because I was homeschooled, or disappointing my spouse because they were homeschooled.
And it worked for you/them … Well, everyone is different, in case you hadn’t heard. We learn differently, things are not the same as they were back in your day (so many more charter school options, or online schools, for one!).
Homeschooling has been around long enough now that this is a real concern. Second generation homeschoolers, they can feel a lot of pressure.
If you are homeschooling just to please your parents or spouse, be honest with them, tell them your fears, get them involved in the process of either homeschooling or being supportive of you putting them in school. They might feel a little insulted at first, but with communication and with them feeling needed and necessary in this journey, you can get past the shock.
I’m worried about bullying.
It may happen more often in public schools, but sadly, bullying is not mutually exclusive to a brick and mortar education building. Nor is it mutually exclusive to public school children.
News flash: there are plenty of bullies in homeschool groups too. The desire to protect our kids from teasing, taunts, and straight up threats of violence – this is natural and nobody is poo-pooing your efforts.
But in my experience – and I’ve had a lot of experience through my own childhood, my children’s upbringing, my foster kids, my niece who I helped raise, and the hundreds of dance students I’ve taught – some of the meanest kids don’t even go to school.
Red Flag #6: Relaxed Homeschooling That Led to Unschooling That Led to… uh… Well, No Homeschooling at All
This one may warrant a post all its own, because it’s a humdinger. First of all, before you start intensely disliking me and close your browser in disgust, let me say that there are some families out there doing unschooling (or whathaveyou) quite admirably.
However, they are few and far between. And kinda exceptional.
I think it used to be much easier to be an unschooler. I’ve gone to this method more than once, as my own homeschooling mother did occasionally, but it was when we needed a break, or during the holidays, or preparing for the birth of a baby.
Not many children will thrive in this environment long term in this day and age.
Well, let’s just blame the ol’ interweb, shall we? I mean, it’s not untrue. Nothing has changed childhood more in the past … um, forever than the launch of the internet. Love it or hate it, it’s obviously here to stay, and our kids don’t remember a time without it.
Nostalgic sigh for the good ol’ days, can I get an amen?
A large part of what makes unschooling or interest-led schooling so attractive and successful back when it first came around (shout out to John Taylor Gatto, the pioneer of homeschooling whose groundbreaking book is available in a 25th edition. Grab it here), was the belief – nay, knowledge – that kids left to their own inquisitiveness, curiosity, and love for learning, would self-direct themselves to a wonderful education. I don’t disagree with this!
However, in some circles, this “leave your children to follow their interests,” leads instead to kids who watch tv around the clock, can’t do math, play a lot of video games, and are insecure in the world because they know there’s a whole lot of stuff out there they know nothing about.
This is not the outcome all the time, and I’m certainly not saying that kids who love video games won’t grow up to be successful business men in that field. But in all frankness, this is one of the main reasons I do not homeschool my youngest.
While my girls had a ton of interests in life, everything from horses to sports to math to sewing to raising chickens to painting to cooking to astronomy, my beloved son, who I adore with all my heart and can’t get enough of, would sit and watch paint peel before he’d pick up some passion in genre/subject/hobby.
Boredom leads to genius, right?
Or a lot of napping, video games, and reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
So, if your child really is the type to branch out into all sorts of fields, desperate to try their hands at building a robot, reading the Encyclopedia, become a master chef, memorize the periodic table, then by all means, don’t rule out unschooling.
Just don’t use it as a front for allowing your kids to do absolutely nothing for their school years.
Unschooling deserves better than that.
(And so do your kids.)
Let’s Not End on a Sour Note!
Is this you? There’s hope for your floundering homeschool. All is not lost. Now that you’ve addressed what is going wrong in the house, in the hearts, in the mindsets, it’s time to make a change.
Maybe the change is public school Maybe it’s private school. Or maybe you can recharge and reboot with better results. There are plenty of great options!
Or maybe you read all this and realized that you are just listening to your negative thoughts. The red flags and warning signs aren’t there. Sure, everyone has a bad day or even week, but you find joy in schooling your children and despite your doubts and everyday difficulties, things are actually going pretty well. If that’s you, then hang in there! You’re doing well, keep up the good work!
Wherever your homeschool is at, keep us updated in the comments!