Everyone who goes to church on Sundays knows the game. There is lots of hustle and bustle getting everyone out the door, chaos and panic finding all the right (or left) shoes, making sure everything gets into the car, and the inevitable discussions in the car about who did what to whom are all followed by getting out of the car with smiles on faces and best behavior from all parties involved. Mom and Dad use their quietest, calmest voices to correct children who dare to step out of line even a little bit. That is the Sunday routine. Put on a happy face. Respond to “How are you?” questions with “Oh, we are all fine.” Nobody admits what it took just to get there. Families, especially parents, are afraid that someone will discover a flaw in their Christian life. Nobody dares show the slightest imperfection.
Home schoolers are like that, too. Attendance at a support group meeting can be a social event, a chance to have adult conversation, yet somehow it can miss the mark when it comes to getting real support. Watching a group of home-school moms when someone admits a problem can be enlightening. Everyone has an answer, but not always will someone admit to having been there before. While all may be sympathetic to a brief discussion of one issue, someone with a real need is sometimes cast aside, cut off, or pushed off onto a single member. When someone’s problem dominates the discussion, others become uncomfortable. Nobody dares stray from the agenda at hand. There is safety in having a plan for the meeting. Everyone has a “happy” topic to discuss, and nobody has to deal with uncomfortable silence—or worse yet, admit that something is not right. Support group leaders admit leaving meetings wondering why nobody was truly helped or why obvious needs were left unexpressed.
The answer is the “Happy Home Schooler.” Thanks to an underlying notion that home schools must be perfect in all ways lest they be judged by anyone outside the home, moms force themselves to put on their “happy faces” and pretend that there are no problems. Fearful of being labeled incompetent to teach their own children, parents hide the insecurities, questions, and troubles of their home—covering them and pretending that nothing ever goes wrong.
Home school publications sometimes encourage this notion. Everyone has seen the magazine covers showing fifteen immaculately dressed children (all outfits matching, of course, because their mother made them herself) with perfect smiles and perfect hair. The article about that family describes every perfect detail of their life. The older children do chores while the mother holds one-room school for the little ones. Then the older ones have school in the afternoon while the little ones play quietly (so as not to disturb their older siblings in their deep, challenging studies). The children run various small businesses. The father is an independently wealthy man who only works part-time because his investments keep the family going. Therefore, they never face financial struggles or wonder whether they should stop homeschooling so the mother can go back to work to help feed all those growing boys.
In this scenario, nobody ever steps out of line. Nobody ever rebels, misbehaves, climbs on top of the refrigerator, or breaks the light fixture in a bedroom while throwing a ball in the house. Nobody ever accidentally defrosts the freezer on the day the mother plans to start potty training the youngest child. Nobody ever gets hurt, falls ill, or loses anything. Every bedroom surely must be perfect and every kitchen cabinet in total array. Undoubtedly this family’s living room is always straight and tidy. Best of all, every child learns with exactly the same learning style as the mother, so she is never confronted with finding a way to help a child learn something that he just cannot understand.
Is it any wonder that many home-school moms feel compelled to wear their “Happy Home Schooler” faces when they attend support group meetings? The perception of home schools–encouraged by the home-school media (who would ever dream of telling mainstream media the truth?), by home-school how-to books, and even by individual home schoolers–is that all home schools are perfect. Is that any way to present ourselves to each other? What is this doing to others who are beginning the journey? How many are becoming discouraged because they think everyone “gets it right” except them? Paranoia about being judged both from outside the home-school community and from within prevents the kind of honesty that can bring experienced answers to light.
Large numbers of children, such as those in public schools, exhibit a wide variety of behaviors, problems, and emotions. So do individual children in home schools. Children are children. They make mistakes. They do funny things. They surprise everyone with the ways they perceive the world. They disobey.
Mothers are humans, too. They lose things. They awake exhausted after a night of interrupted sleep. They get frustrated. They have tempers. They forget to listen with a sympathetic ear. Some even yell at their children from time to time (horror of horrors!). These are not excuses for being irresponsible, not reasons to allow ourselves to always be lazy or forgetful, nor allowances for developing a pattern of being mean to our children. They are mere truths about our human natures.
My challenge to you for the upcoming year is to remove your mask. Be real. The process of getting and giving support begins with you. People in leadership positions, especially, need to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to show the truth about the job that must be done. Others are watching, and it is a terrible injustice to lead them to believe that you are always perfect. It is also a lie. Encouraging others to homeschool means not just showing them the rosy side of the picture. Truth is far more encouraging than fiction