collage of images of mothers spending time with their daughters
It's Time to Pull Out All The Stops title
collage of images of mothers spending time with their daughters
It's Time to Pull Out All The Stops title
with Jennifer Cabrera
I'll love you forever.  I'll like you for always.  No matter how you look at me,  your homeschool mom I'll be.
Ahh… handwriting.
I was clearly ruining him with it (and my shot at teacher of the year) by seeking to improve his penmanship. After nine years, I wasn’t really worried about losing my title, but I preferred the “cuddlier” moments of homeschooling.

Of course, homeschooling can’t be all fun and games, cocoa and stargazing, art and animal husbandry. Sigh. (Somewhere a new homeschooler is turning to her husband in a panic… “See? I told you we needed to get a goat or some chickens!”)

We also must cover the three R’s of learning like the experts suggest: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic. Right? (Oh the ‘rony. Snort.)

If we hope to raise adults who can argue logically, decipher ancient runes such as cursive handwriting, possibly do their own taxes, and change a toilet paper roll correctly, we must do the things that aren’t always fun. And that means math, grammar, and chores.

We all know the difficult and boring subjects can take threats, bribery, and coercion on the hard days. Especially as the kids get older, math gets meaner, sighs get louder, and their arguments get more clever. “No son, I’ve never used the Pythagorean theorem at the grocery store, but it’s part of your education… Because I said so, that’s why.”

The job of a homeschool parent is heavy at times. Okay, all the time. It’s always heavy. Like a neon sign strapped to our shoulders, flashing over our heads: “Place all blame here.” And because of this we can’t just check off academic bullet points and put the kids back on the shelf until we’re ready to show them off at spelling bees and farmers’ markets.

“Trying to impress the world by feigning perfection instead of enjoying your unique family is a waste of this precious time you have together.”
We also must address their emotional, social, and spiritual upkeep. Their moral compass, our family relationships, and their ability to care for a family of their own someday depend on these points maturing. As well as their ability to remember P.E.M.D.A.S. in math. (Please Excuse My Dear Angry Son.)

But I don’t want to be heavy all the time! (I stick out my bottom lip and reach for something chocolate.) This homeschool gig is supposed to bring us closer together as a family. It’s the more natural, relaxing way to educate children in safety and comfort.

So why do we sometimes want to hide from our kids? And they from us?

Perhaps we could lighten up and take ourselves less seriously. If so, what magic might happen? And how do we lighten up when there is so much pressure and so little time to prove to the world—and skeptical relatives, friends, and strangers—that we aren’t ruining our kids?

The answer:
Pull out all the stops. typography
First, stop trying to be a schoolteacher.
This one is for the new homeschool parents struggling to let go of the classroom structure, anyone who loved playing school with your pets as a kid, or anyone who made lists for their lists and had trouble relinquishing authority. (You know who you are. Oh wait, that was me.)

Lecturing to your kids at full attention in assigned kitchen chairs, with all questions asked via raised hands held until Mrs. Mom puts down her dry-erase marker is just ridiculous.

Stop. Repeat after me. “I (state your name) am a control freak.” Okay maybe not, but you are likely brainwashed. No, that’s not nice either. You are simply trying to compete.

Our society has educational methods and expectations that we worry we must follow to produce functional and equally competitive students in the real world. Yet, by homeschooling, aren’t we saying no to those expectations and that we want a better way? It takes some homeschool parents longer to realize that they are copying the very structure they fled and expecting different results.

Part of homeschooling is realizing that the most useful knowledge and experience is often gained on the days that look the least like school.

Homeschooling isn’t blasting your kids with bullet-pointed presentations and lectures. That structure builds a chasm, like an orchestra pit separating you from your kids stuck sitting, bored, and idle. Don’t just throw facts and ideas at them from your podium like koozies and promotional junk, hoping they catch a few bits and find a need for them.

Instead, invite them onto the stage of learning. Humble yourself and admit you don’t know everything. Tap into more effective ways of living and learning together by dropping the ruse that you know all.

Bonus: Learning together cuts your prep time considerably.

The research to prepare a lecture is where the learning is. Don’t rob the kids of the opportunity. Let them get up and look things up. Do the experiments first. Then use the curiosity that follows to find out the why. Don’t just tell them why.

You are not only modeling how to learn, but the fact that learning never ends. The tension to perform and spew knowledge at your kids—and for them to regurgitate it—will lessen. Your relationship will improve because you are no longer acting as gatekeeper, but rather as facilitator and partner. Let them see you mess up and keep trying. And if you really want to go rogue and instill confidence, let them teach you.

Next, stop trying to force Hallmark moments.
A watched pot never boils—or at least not until you turn around to find your coffee cup. Then a fresh batch of cabbage water boils over, stains your best pajamas, and stinks up the house for eternity. The same is true when you try to plan or stage the kumbaya moments we all want to experience in homeschooling like the brochure promised. Trying to do so sets you up to resent your kids who didn’t read their scripted parts. And that stinks up the house for eternity, too.

For instance, I once envisioned my offspring enjoying a break from their endeavors (i.e., video games) to listen as I read a selection of classic novels aloud. I could just hear them beg for extra chapters each cozy evening. I’d lovingly oblige, and then we’d blow out the candles and tell Pa goodnight before tucking in for a… ahem. It didn’t go as planned, though the read-aloud continues today.

coffee cup with beverage stain ring underneath it
Stop the fanciful expectations of pre-scripted joy and look for the natural wonders at play in your unique homeschool.
Stop taking their groans as a sign of failure to strengthen family bonds and log those heartfelt moments. Our own personal family’s “amazing” is happening naturally—we just need to look for it. We can miss it when we’re trying to recreate the success and joys of others.

Have you ever looked in awe as one kid taught another and a light you couldn’t spark came on? Maybe a baking lesson only produced smoke and hockey pucks but ended in laughter and a trip for ice cream. Ever witness your kid defend truth and their beliefs when they had nothing to gain?

Don’t miss your moments happening in the mayhem and monotony of homeschool. They are a glimpse of God at work in our homeschool families.

Stop thinking you’re the only one not enjoying every minute with your kids.
Can’t live with them some days, but you can’t bear the thought of sending them to public school? Misery loves company, so allow me to help.

I loathe grading math. I despise feeding time. They’re always hungry. It’s lonely drowning in everyone’s needs. It’s exhausting coordinating all activities and predicting and dodging all difficulties. They get too much screen time when I’m tired. We don’t do group field trips. Sometimes I yell, tune out their monologues, and drink way too much coffee.

But we love them, so we keep going for the good times together and because we know the alternative is not an option for us. Let them sleep in on the rough days if possible. Lure them with food when resistant to studying.

three kids fighting the back seat of a car
Stop taking all the blame for strained relationships in your home.
Remind the teens that they should enjoy you as well. No nagging. Just show them you can lighten up and laugh.
Optional tactics include:
  • Have a meme text-off with your teens.
  • Beat the snot out of them at Tetris weekly. (Undefeated, y’all.)
  • Force story time. Do all the voices while they roll their eyes but secretly enjoy it.
  • Slip funny pictures and quotes into their math flash cards.
  • Call a game night and allow no losing-on-purpose under threat of a Wi-Fi password change.
  • Burst into conversationally relevant song lyrics daily.

Above all, don’t take yourself so seriously you forget to be real with your kids. Trying to impress the world by feigning perfection instead of enjoying your unique family is a waste of this precious time you have together. If nothing else, I hope my kids look back and say… We laughed.

illustration of woman drinking coffee
Jennifer Cabrera

ennifer Cabrera, the Hifalutin Homeschooler, is a writer, author of Socialize Like a Homeschooler: A Humorous Homeschool Handbook Revolting Writing: For Boys… and Girls Who Dare!, and Gross Out Grammar. She’s also a speaker of homeschool truth, help, and humor. Her writings, insights, and memes poke fun of life as a homeschooler (and those who know nothing of it). She hopes to bring laughter and inspiration to get through the hard days. She also wants “to empower parents to be headstrong and take pride in looking out for their family’s education, future, and freedom.”

Jennifer homeschools their three boys deep in the heart of Texas and says “It was everything I never knew I always wanted to do.”