Do you remember that Staples® commercial that used to air at the end of each summer, showing parents dancing through the aisles, tossing back-to-school items into a cart, and singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”?
As a longtime homeschooler, I sometimes grimaced at the joke, but I get it. At the end of a lengthy summer, I can certainly understand parents being cheered by the fact that their kids are indeed headed back to school. In some ways, though, because of COVID-19 restrictions, it feels like this year the joke is on the parents instead. Many who were never before interested in becoming homeschoolers find themselves suddenly (and anxiously) researching curricula, writing lesson plans, and participating in various methods of remote learning.
I understand the anxiety. I often choose the Nativity of Mary (September 8) as a starting date for our homeschool year because leaning on Our Lady helps me fight off that feeling of dread that threatens to overwhelm me every year in early September. Though I’ve been a homeschooler in some form for more than 20 years now, I still feel the need to call myself a “reluctant homeschooler.” That’s because it’s a pretty challenging thing to do, perhaps the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I don’t always feel equipped for the job.
Year after year my husband and I have prayerfully determined that homeschooling is the best choice for us in our current circumstances, but I don’t at all pretend that homeschooling is the ideal, or that it’s for everyone. It simply isn’t. No system of education is.
There is something about the broad responsibility of homeschooling that makes me feel like, no matter what, I must be doing it wrong. I am using the wrong books, or I shouldn’t be using books at all, or I have too rigid a schedule, or I have too loose a schedule, or I’m doing too much housework at the expense of the kids’ education, or I’m educating the children at the expense of basic sanitation, or I’m paying too much attention to the little kids and not enough to the big kids, or I’m paying too much attention to the big kids and not enough to the little kids, or …
You get the idea.
I find it encouraging to recall that the Blessed Mother was homeschooled. In my bedroom, I have a beautiful statue of St. Anne with a young Mary by her side as she holds open a book. I like to look at that statue and think about what their days together must have been like, reading and learning together. I picture an idyllic scene that is far from the reality I’ve experienced as a homeschooling mom over the years, but it encourages me nonetheless.
St. Anne was exceptional in many ways, but in the end, she was a mom like me, doing her best to give the best to her daughter. The Nativity of Mary, coming as it does at the start of each school year, is an invitation to remember that, and to pray for the grace to do our best as well.
Like Mary and St. Anne, Elizabeth Ann Seton and her family are also good role models for struggling families everywhere. As a young impoverished widow and mother of many biological and adopted children, we might understand if Mother Seton had focused solely on her immediate family, but she did not limit the generous gift of her teaching to her own children. She founded multiple schools for poor young girls in her community because she believed in the importance of education.
There are so many different ways to educate our children, but never have all the options felt as strange and imperfect as they do right now, in the strange and imperfect year of 2020.
So whether you find yourself wiping away tears as your kindergartener boards a school bus for the first time, or you long to be dancing through the aisles like the parents in the commercial, perhaps it’s time for all of us to take a cue from Our Lady and Mother Seton, and “mom up.” Perhaps the time for analyzing our decisions is done, and what’s left to do is only hard work and lots of prayer.
In the end, I don’t think it’s homeschooling that I find so hard, it’s parenting in general. Like Our Lady and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, all parents — whether their kids learn at home or in a classroom — can lean hard on God’s grace. Though our details might differ, God calls every one of us to sacrificial love through our family lives. And that’s not likely to come easily to any of us.
DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
Image: St. Anne and the Virgin