Homeschooling is Not for All: Listen to your friends

From a reader, and we will be having two responses tomorrow from a homeschooler and a pastor:

What wisdom do you have for her? for the family?

I hope all is well with you.  I hope too your new faculty position is proving to be a blessing and a wonderful and formative ministry towards those being trained for ministry roles in the church.

Your wisdom would be much appreciated.   I find myself in a difficult position where a very dear friend of mine, along with her, husband are stubbornly refusing to follow the godly counsel of a group of friends (including two experienced pastors, one formally trained in therapy) who have quite independently given the same advice regarding their decision to homeschool.

Put simply, she and her husband are having tremendous problems dealing with conflict resolution in their marriage and ingrained patterns of behavior and expectations which are not conducive to a healthy marriage and family life.  Issues are just shelved rather than resolved – only to blow up again and again at a later stage.  Matters are compounded by the fact that the husband has to work away from home often.  Things were already difficult for them when they had their first child, but now having had three more, their marriage is even more under stress.

However, my main concern is that their two oldest girls (8 and 6) are also being home schooled will little respite from the tension at home.  The mother is simply not in an emotionally settled state to home school, and the children are somewhat isolated even from other children by being house bound and not taking part in group activities with other homeschooled children.  I am a trained teacher myself, and I do not believe my friend has the temperament to home school. When home, he of course would rather just have fun and play with the kids.  And more often than not they are not on good terms with each other.

Somewhere along the way, they have got it into their heads that ‘home schooling’ their children is the best and right thing for them to do as Christian parents.  And this has blinded them to the actual situation.  In holding on to this ideal they seem to be in denial of the many obvious emotional and educational issues in their current home schooling family environment.  The ideal seems to be placed above the genuine needs of their children.

They have had others address these concerns with them, and those concerned come from a number of perspectives — professional as well. They even moved church because they did not like the pastor telling them it was unwise to home school when their marriage was under so much stress and in need of help.

Things are now getting worse with every home cycle from work becoming a tense situation in the home.  It is now getting to the point where I feel something needs to be done.  I have resolved to speak more frankly, even at the risk of my friendship, because it grieves me to see what is happening to the children.  Grave concerns shared with me by some of her close friends and even family are now becoming quite apparent to me.

However, how much support do I give before I collude with her to the detriment of her children, and even their marriage?  When does one say enough is enough?  I feel torn.  I love my friend and her children, but I can no longer support her in the destructive decision to stoically continue homeschooling, when in fact she is not coping and the children are suffering as a result.  The oldest girl is already presenting quite dysfunctional and very needy behaviour.  Continuing in the same vein for much longer will only make the problems more acute.  It is already starting to impinge on the second child.

Not sure what I am asking.  Definitely your prayers.  Certainly for wisdom and courage.  Any thoughts from experience caring for dysfunctional families would be appreciated.  To be honest, my husband  has even wondered if they should be reported to childcare authorities. Please feel free to post this if you think it might solicit some useful advice.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    What a difficult situation for you, I can quite understand the dilemma you are in. I’d like to make two points.

    Do pray for your friend and the whole family. I’m sure you have been doing this for some considerable time. Have you also prayed for yourself? What I mean is, have you specifically asked Jesus to guide your thoughts and actions? Perhaps you have. Continue to pray for guidance and expect an answer. But don’t place any expectation on the form of the answer. It might be a sudden clarity in your own heart and mind. It might be an unexpected conversation, or something you read in the Bible, or something else entirely, or a combination of things.

    And the second (related) point is just to say that you WILL come to a time when your mind is made up. It sounds to me as if you are very close to that point already. One day you will have been wavering, the next day you will know what you must do or say and will be able to go ahead with a peaceful heart. At the moment you’re hesitant and in some turmoil. But you will come to a place of clear certainty. It might help to jot down on paper the dangers of acting and not acting as you see them.

    Trust Jesus, but also trust your instincts in this. You are your friend’s friend for a reason. And don’t pay too much attention to advice – including mine. You will work this out in your own heart. Jesus will give you the best advice. Believe he has a solution and that he’ll show it to you.

  • Mike M

    Tough situation. Thanks for prayerfully sharing. As a reflexive response, I don’t agree with your husband. Actual abuse is not evident here and once you get the government involved, all hope of real resolution is dissolved.
    Is your main concern for the kids’ education or psychological well-being? If the former, even if the children were sent to a public school, they would still come home at the end of the day to a dysfunctional environment.
    Have you offered mom respite? Are there support groups for homeschoolers? Here in Wisconsin, there seems to be a support group for every locale, political leaning, and religion that ever existed. Does mom need to see a physician? From my reading of your post, yes. So make her an appointment. Sometimes our neurotransmitters need a boost.

  • Paul W

    Getting between members of a family who are in dispute is like getting between scissor blades.

    Voice your disagreement if you have to . . . provide referral information if you must . . . call DSS if it is necessary. Otherwise, how a family raises their children is their business. If they want your help with something I’m sure they’ll ask.

  • Linda

    Why not offer to spend some time out one-on-one with the eldest daughter or provide other practical help that you are able to: meals, babysitting, gift certificate to the couples’ favorite restaurant for a night out alone for them, etc. There is a time to give advice and there is a time to offer assistance. I think assistance is really what is needed at this point.

  • http://www.theleapofdoubt.com Bob

    It’s THEIR life and THEIR decision. They don’t have to get life perfect because no one does anyway. Your job is to pray for them and to provide honest input when asked. Otherwise you come off as an arrogant, condescending busybody in other people’s matters. This is where you apply Jesus’ teaching to not cast your pearls (of wisdom) to those who aren’t in a position to appreciate it. Good advice can be just as manipulative as condemnation. Pray. Trust God. Let the trainwreck happen. And be there to lovingly help pick up the pieces.

  • Grace

    What if the concerns raised are a result of prolonged contact, practical care, sharing and one on one caring? When does it become important not to simply be there to rescue the family, but to also encourage preventative measures? Is there ever a time to address the problems and issues of concern so obvious to all others BUT the parents? Is there no duty of care for responsible, thoughtful and caring friends towards the family and the spiraling dysfunction the situation is promoting? I do not seen the post arising from just simple disagreement over patenting styles and decisions, but upon close, long term and personal awareness of serious marital issues which are adversely impacting the responsible and effective schooling of then children at home. If it is as serious as I seem to be reading it, is it really wise to let things fall apart and then be there to help to pick up the pieces? Is there no place for an appropriate concern and intervention because of what is happening to the kids – especially if it has been flagged independently? I pray for wisdom, discernment and courage.

  • MatthewS

    It’s a big red flag that they changed churches because they did not like the advice of the pastor and that they are pushing away the counsel of friends and professionals.

    Have you seen http://www.recoveringgrace.org? It is run by former students of Bill Gothard’s homeschooling program. Some families did OK but many former students say that their home life was effectively abusive and hurtful in many ways. If your friends are into Vision Forum and similar, the “quivering daughters” blog (www.quiveringdaughters.com/) might be of interest to you.

    It sounds like the problems run deeper than homeschooling. The parents are putting their own priorities ahead of the needs of their kids, they are ignoring input from friends and church. There is a lack of accountability (changing churches, ignoring friends and professional advice), and however bad it looks on the outside, it may be worse on the inside. Even if the kids were in school, they would probably still have a lot to deal with when they emerge as adults from this home. Very, very sad.

    I say this as a homeschooling dad and I love homeschooling in the right situation but my heart breaks for kids stuck in bad home situations like this.

    Some book recommendations: “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” can help clarify what you are seeing in some of these cases. “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend can help describe what it would look like to become more healthy as a family. This paper specifically aims at “violence” but the descriptions fit well for many situations where the problems are verbal and emotional rather than physical: http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=411 The “fog of confusion and evasion” is a very apt description.

    One more quick comment: thank you. Thank you for caring about these kids. You honestly may not be able to do much more than help pick up the pieces after they move out on their own but it’s so much easier to just keep the blinders on and keep on walking, ignoring the problems. At least you can register a concern and tell the kids you care. When you take a passive approach to oppression, you favor the oppressor by default. These kids can’t tell you thanks right now, so I’m doing it for them. Thank you.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com Matt Dabbs

    Bob,

    I hope she doesn’t follow your advice brother. “Let the trainwreck happen. And be there to lovingly help pick up the pieces.” How does that make any sense? How is that supportive when she isn’t at the “pick up the pieces” stage. She is at the suffering through all of this and in needing support right where she’s at stage. You have to start with where people are at and help them right then and there. If she refuses help, that is one thing. But if she is pleading for help and we just say, “Can’t wait to help you pick up the pieces once the train goes off the track and is dashed to bits” then we have a problem. If it all falls apart, despite support in the suffering, then by all means help her pick up the pieces. But if she can be loved, supported, cared for and offered some relief right where she is at, then by all means do that. We don’t sit idly by while people’s lives fall apart as if the compassionate response is just picking up pieces all the time.

  • http://www.theleapofdoubt.com Bob

    @Matt Dobbs: from my reading of this post, the family in question isn’t “pleading for help” – rather, their teacher friend who feels she knows better than them is the one wrestling with what to do. If I misread and the family IS asking pleading for help, then by all means humbly and lovingly go support them. But if the family is intent on their path and there isn’t anything illegal or physically abusive going on, it’s not the teacher’s job to intervene, called DSS, or otherwise meddle in their decisions. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. And I say this as someone who lived through six years of foolish choices where other people thought they knew better and arrogantly thought they understood my situation; the ones who humbly prayed, waited, and were there for us when we came around were the ones that were most appreciated.

  • Katherinez

    I think this person is putting too much focus on getting the kids out of homeschooling and into school rather than how to support this family and especially their hurting marriage to help make the family unit strong and healthy. Please look at the big picture. If the kids went to a public school, in the midst of so much strife at home, they’d be bringing their stress and concerns with them making it hard to work and learn. They would then return home to a dysfunctional environment there as well.

    If this pattern of dysfunction goes on for years, then the kids’ educational well-being would certainly need to be addressed. But right now the kids are young and the focus should be not on their education but on their parents’ marriage. Because if that falls apart completely, the children’s emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being will be a much bigger concern than their academics.

    I will pray for this hurting family right now as well as for this concerned friend that he/she will be able to find ways to support the mother at home and help her find respite in her busy and stressful life as well as help mentor the couple or find a way for them to get professional help for their marriage.

  • Kenny Johnson

    Homeschooling wasn’t for us because I have to work and my wife probably should work (for financial reasons). But even if we could afford for my wife to stay home (I make more), we both agreed that neither of us has the patience or discipline to homeschool (and my wife has been a pre-school teacher for like 10 years). Our local elementary school is top-rated, so I have no problem letting the state educate my son. :)

  • Catherine

    Lots of prayer and lots of support. The kids are young enough that their education won’t suffer too much right now, but I think you are right to be concerned about their emotional health. That being said, there’s no guarantee that eight hours a day of school is much better for their emotional development. And none of us really know for sure. So I recommend being a good friend.

    I had a friend who was in a rough situation – newly widowed, seven kids at home, and homeschooling. Several of her kids were being difficult to deal with and I really strongly recommended that she put her older kids in school to give herself a break. She refused, saying that the kids would come home with the same problems, if not more, and there would be less time to deal with them. Now, 10 years later, the kids haven’t turned out as angels, but they’ve done remarkably well. And I have to give kudos to the mom who knew what was best for her and her kids. Just something to think about.

  • Robin

    I find this email, as well as the intervention by the church problematic.

    Issue #1 – the marriage is a wreck
    Issue #2 – the kids are being homeschooled, which isn’t ideal considering the state of the marriage

    Solution – try to intervene and get the couple to put the kids in public school, have other friends attempt the same intervention, and the church as a whole press the schooling issue to the point that the couple leaves the church.

    It seems to me like everyone in this couple’s life has elevated secondary issues (schooling) to the point that the couple is beginning to distance themselves from their support network, making it impossible to get help with their primary issues. Continuing to push the school angle seems like a sure-fire way to make sure this couple is completely isolated and the problem continues to grow.

  • http://thecrossties.blogspot.com Rick G.

    From the kids perspective, I hope that you don’t give up but stick around and be a light to them. I know from personal experience that public school can still be an unhealthy environment when things are not going well at home. What saved me was having a person in my life who loved me and cared (http://bit.ly/R8GLOH).


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