Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Not too long ago a woman of my acquaintance accused me educating my children at home in order to satisfy some excessive desire of mine to "control every aspect of their lives."

Now this woman had no experience of home education in her own life or among her family or friends. She sends her children to a private school and I think she is satisfied with the formation they receive there. Her remark was indirect in that it was spoken to another woman in our presence, but it was clearly directed at me and I carried it around for days, mulling it over, turning it in my mind, defending myself as I argued with her in my head.

My first thought on the matter is this: Why do women do this? Why do we look for the selfish motives of other women? Whether it's the number of children they have, if they have home or hospital births, nurse or bottle feed, educate their children at home or send them to school, why do we automatically look for a selfish motive when the choice is different from our own? I say "we" because I know I've fallen prey to this tendency, even when I've tried to avoid it. In the past, I think the reason I did this was rooted in insecurity. I wanted to do what was best for my family and before I gained a certain confidence in my judgment and abilities, I tended to see other women's choices as a judgment on my own.

But some of it, too, was just plain small mindedness.

I'm pretty sure that that was the case here. This woman simply couldn't see beyond her own circumstances. She has a good job that gives her satisfaction. She lives within a reasonable commuting distance from a private school that offers a fine academic formation and a community of dedicated parents and teachers. She and her husband can easily afford the tuition there and enjoy being a part of the community that surrounds the school, themselves. She did mention that there are some things that her children learn from other children at school that she and her husband disapprove of, but they take the time and make the effort to talk with their children about these matters and work through them as a family. These are the blessings this woman has been given and the environment in which she has made her decision to send her children to school. She cannot understand why anyone would choose differently unless they had an excessive fear of those things that give her pause and a selfish need to feel in control.

But her blessings are not the blessings I have been given and I do not homeschool for the reasons she would homeschool if she did.

I was raised in a family that valued education for its own sake. I attended a Liberal Arts college where the concept of learning for its own sake fostered a desire to become a life long learner. There, I met my husband and a few of the students we knew had been educated at home. The idea of educating my own children fascinated me more than any other career path. Since that time, we have been blessed to know countless families in several different states that educate their children at home, including several members of my own family. We have been amazed at the great variety of approaches to homeschooling and feel confident in our ability to provide a rich educational experience in a way that is uniquely suited to the needs of our children. I enjoy teaching my children and learning right alongside them. These are some of the blessings that I have been given and this is the environment in which I made my decision to educate my children at home.

As for controlling our children excessively, I do worry occasionally if we are doing enough to ensure that they will transition smoothly into the larger world when the time comes. It occurs to me, though, that if parents can send their children to school and stay on top of whatever issues arise there and deal with them at home as a family, then surely a homeschooling family can find the time and make the effort to expose their children to the world in healthy, age appropriate ways. Far from shunning such opportunities, I welcome them wholeheartedly.

Comments Open...


Matilda said...

Very well said, Suzanne! This is something I have been guilty of and have worked (am still working) to overcome. I think women are more prone to read into the decisions others and consider them judgments against our own. We have to try not to hear the "implied inverse" or if we do perceive it, we have to choose not to be injured by it which is sometimes a huge act of charity.

What do I mean by the "implied inverse"? It is the subtext that can sometimes accompany (maybe intended, maybe not) a statement like "Oh, we don't do sodas in our house because the excess sugar is terribly corrosive for a child's tooth enamel and it really is just wasted calories." Depending on how that statement is delivered, the mom tucking the bottle of Sprite down under the blanket in her diaper bag might feel as though she is being judged as an abusive mother who is responsible for rotting her child's teeth and the reason her toddler has a cold because his immune system has surely been compromised by all of the empty calories in those few tiny sips. We won't even talk about those little pudges of baby fat that are her fault as well.

I think for homeschooling moms it is a big temptation to think our way is the right way for everyone because we do spend SO MUCH time trying to find the right way for ourselves but that is probably because we feel 100% accountable for our child's upbringing and education. For moms who choose institutional education, the sting of the "implied inverse" might be too much to bear so in charity we should try not to level that judgment against them. But there are those women who will never even try to think outside of the box, for them, every decision not in line with their own is a judgment and criticism.

You have acted most charitably towards someone who really did put you in a difficult situation.

gsk said...

I think Matilda's exactly right. Women take the choices of other women personally. Women also choose friends accordingly, thus we feel closest to women who have made similar choices to our own. In the broadest sense, pro-life women are uncomfortable with pro-abortion women, and vice-versa. Of course that's an enormous "world-view" choice that slices aquaintances in half. Then married women are not comfortable with divorced women (except in "mitigating" situations) and women who contracept have radar for women who disapprove (and vice versa). I've found in the most "innocent" of social activities, there's a latent hostility between women with 1-2 children against women with larger families, no matter how kind and non-judgemental the latter are. Then school choices, day-care choices, television, movie, sleepover, and extra-curriculars all make sub-sets of women who think w-a-a-y too much about what other women do.

I only have five kids, but the fact that I've home-schooled in the past, am a lector, and have a pro-life sticker on my car, has immediately cut me off from casual conversations in the lunch room or book fairs at the local Catholic school. It's just the way it is. Even if I had the smile of Rachel Ray or June Cleaver (which I don't) and it wouldn't make a hill of beans' difference.

Women have a dark side, in which they justify themselves by maligning the choices of others. It obviously has an impact on evangelisation, because you're judged before you open your mouth. I've had to really examine my own conscience to see how much I judge (by the size of a family, the SUV they drive, what the children wear, etc.) because I'm sure I'm just as guilty in the reverse.

The funny thing is, men don't pick up these under-currents at all, as far as I can tell.

Beck said...

Mmm. Even though I'm a public schooling mom, I've been accused of being an overly controlling mother - generally by mothers who (and I'm going to be frank here) could stand to pay quite a bit more attention to their own children.
SO I generally think that when another woman starts making judgemental statements about my lifestyle, it has more to do with how my lifestyle makes HER feel about her own parenting than anything to do with me.

Kansas Mom said...

I think this was an interesting post for me because one of the reasons I want to homeschool is control. (I have two children, 4 and 1, and am still working full-time, so we haven't actually starting any homeschooling yet.) I am constantly dismayed at what is taught in schools, especially public schools, but even some Catholic schools. In particular, I worry about sex education and the politically correct views of homosexuality. It's one thing for a high school student to stand firm in faith at school when faced with such issues, but I don't want my children to struggle with them in elementary school.

So control is one reason, and I'm proud to admit it. My husband and I take seriously our roles to shepherd our children in their faith, and we believe in their younger years that requires teaching them at home. We are especially blessed to both be highly educated, which makes homeschooling an easy choice for us; we trust God to help us develop the other skills we'll need along the way.

Meredith said...

Excellent post!! Ditto what you said :)

Homeschool Housewife said...

I think it is just hard to be a mom. That mom may love her job and her kid's school, but I think there must be some guilt there. I think we jump on the high horse to cover something we secretly worry or feel guilty about. Or maybe to forget for a second about how we feel like a failure in a different area.

I have been dealing with this in myself a little. God has been showing me that I have been a little judging and galloping around on my high horse. And you know what, I have been failing a LOT more. I really think He is trying to show me that I am NOT all that, that He IS. If I am a good mom or have a loving giving spirit it is because He has granted me the gifts and circumstances that allow me to be that way.

So, look around, give God the glory for the oppourtunity to know your children better than a stranger who happens to be their teacher that year. To never miss the silly things they do that day. Praise Him for the ability to see their face as they learn something new. And when someone questions or offers an indirect critisism, know that you are where God wants you to be. And knowing that understand she may be where God wants her to be too.

Thanks for the great post!

Suzanne Temple said...

Kansas mom, Oh I agree. Isn't it a good thing to have control, especially over those things that we will be held accountable for one day? I think people use this word with such negative meaning these days they've forgotten that "control" is fundamentally a good thing. But I do think there is a negative sense. The sense in which overbearing personalities want to do things or make decisions for others that those others can and should do for themselves. I think that's the kind of control we don't want over our children's lives.

Barb, sfo said...

We are a Catholic-school family, and we have taken plenty of flack about that decision. Most of it has to do with "sheltering our children too much" and things like that. But in our family, the wish to "shelter" our children is only part of the reason that we have chosen the schooling option we chose. We want them educated in a faith-filled environment, where the values and practices reinforce what we believe and practice at home. We are confident that this is happening in their schools. I imagine that your goal in choosing home schooling is much the same.

We have had our share of confrontations with Catholic neighbors who have told us that our children would never have friends in the neighborhood if they weren't in public school with the other neighborhood kids, and who told us that we are over protective and that "what you do at home and CCD is enough."

We have always bent over backward not to condemn our neighbors' choice of public school for their children, but we don't get that kind of treatment in return.

Please don't let others' reactions control how you think about the decisions you have made for your family. YOU know what is right for your family and your children. May God bless you and your work in schooling them!

Jennifer said...

Great post!!!!!
I think "beck" hit it on the nail.

Anonymous said...

God Bless !!


Stephanie said...

If there could be just one thing - honest - I mean it - if I could only choose one thing that I could pass to moms who have young ones at home and have chosen to school them there, it would be this.

Deep enough roots make a strong enough tree. You can trust this fact.

ryan m. said...

Yeah, it's really sad that in our (secular) culture, "sheltering" your children has a negative connotation.

And regardless of whether or not you homeschool, when you challenge the culture's core assumptions and beliefs by the way you live, it upsets people.

It's not fun, but we have to remember that though we live in the world, we're not supposed to be of the world. This is something that's becoming more clear to me as time goes by.

"Blessed are you when people insult you..."

Jane Ramsey said...

Obvously this aquaintance does not know you very well, Suzanne (or read your blog!) I odn't know how anyone could witness your daily life and think that of you. Your joyful interaction with your boys and their amazing creativity--which could not possibly flourish in a "controlling" atmosphere--are evidence to me that she is very much mistaken.
You do protect them from harmful influences, and that is a good thing :-)
I'm sorry this person said such a hurtful thing to you.

Ambrose said...

I feel you Suzanne! I get a lot of similar heat over here, and I really needed this.

Dana said...

It is difficult for anyone to see past their own circumstances. This is something I always try to keep in mind when homeschooling comes up as a topic of discussion in my personal life. Ignorance is not can be stubborn, but it is not the same thing.

And I used to think homeschooling was for hyper-controlling freaks who were living vicariously through their children. So I guess I cut those who still do a little slack. It took me homeschooling to realize that isn't true.

Principled Discovery

mel said...

Great post, and great comments too. There's a big difference between protecting your children from bad influences and "controlling" them.

Jen said...

I haven't been accused of being a controling mother yet, but I know my initial pursuit of nursing and homeschooling were to fit the mold of what I thought was the "perfect Catholic mother." I know now this not to be true, as I've met so many wonderful women over the years who homeschool, send their kids to public school, and some to private. I think I am both you and the mother who made the comment about you (sorry you had to experience that) rolled up into one. I am hardest on myself and judge myself according to what I consider other people to be doing right. I don't neccesarily judge others. Just myself. It's a way I feel I have control over things. I have big issues with not having enough confidence in God with my life.

diana said...

Interesting...I always wonder why people think other people's lives and choices are things that are permissible to comment negatively on. People can disagree with me, but I do not think it uncharitable to kindly say that it's none of someone's business, or add to the conversation that other people have a right to several moral choices.

Suzanne Temple said...

I hear you, diana!

Kathryn said...

Hi Suzanne,
I've only recently been reading your blog, and found the last post very interesting. I'm a H/Sing mother of six boys (no girls yet, another baby due in June but I don't know what it is!) I'm in the UK, but my expereinces are pretty similar re comments on H/Sing motives. What I also find is that many people have a particluar problem with the fact that I am H/Sing boys ; you know, all that stuff about how they will be mummy's boys, tied to my apron strings, never be tough, confident young men. It does bother me occasionally, but at the same time I can look at the schools and see boys being turned into brutes and thugs! So there is a middle way to be found, as ever. Perhaps it is actually easier with a whole bunch of boys because they toughen each other up with all the rough and tumble! I think it must be harder on friends who H/S a bunch of girls with maybe one boy in the middle.Just some thoughts...
Nice to 'meet' you!
I love the title of your blog :-)