Perseverance in Homeschooling, by Willa Ryan
I have just finished writing a letter of reference for my oldest son, who is in his senior year and hopes to attend Thomas Aquinas College. After eleven years of homeschooling, almost ten of those with Kolbe Academy, I will soon have my first graduate. Time to reflect back on those ten plus years and perhaps discern the direction for my next ten years of homeschooling, or rather ten plus, since my youngest only just turned two years old!
We have not exactly been a magazine-cover homeschool family at all times. We have muddled through many life events. Four complicated pregnancies, four moves, the critical illness of a newborn who ended up receiving a liver transplant…In fact, just the other day I realized that we have completed what was almost our first “normal” autumn term ever. After eleven years! As you can picture, there have been at least some years we haven’t made it all the way through those math books, let alone getting to Latin and Greek. Yet my oldest son has done well, in spite of it all, and is seriously pondering his vocation.
Perseverance Under Pressure, i.e., Carrying Our Cross
What is there to be learned from this? I want to make a case for “inadequate” homeschooling. I don’t mean intentionally careless, neglectful homeschooling. What I mean is more what Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton meant when he said “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.” In the same vein, Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “God desires faithfulness, not success.”
We are all amateurs when we start homeschooling. There will be days, weeks, even longer times, when things seem to be going poorly. We will feel we are not doing a good job. We will be battling our kids’ intellectual and character limitations—and our own. Life circumstances will seem to interrupt and strike at our best efforts to give our children a Catholic education. We will question ourselves and our ability to do what’s required.
But this is something that goes along with any worthwhile endeavor. God doesn’t expect us never to stumble, never to sink to our knees under our cross, whatever it is. He does expect us to cry out to Him and to accept the help that He sends. His help always comes, though it doesn’t always come the way we expect it to.
When things are going badly, I’ve had the temptation to compare myself—with other homeschoolers, with the school around the corner. This is usually not helpful. I can look to them for specific ideas on how to improve my homeschooling, but if I start coveting the good things that other families have, I risk missing the blessings that my own family has.
When you are having a difficult time in your homeschool, try thinking of the Holy Family escaping to Egypt, or the saints who went through difficult times in their ministry. Ask for their intercession in your perseverance. Look back to the reasons you started homeschooling in the first place. St Ignatius Loyola recommended keeping a journal of spiritual progress. You can do a similar thing in any area of life, including homeschooling. Write down what’s working against your efforts to improve—whether it is life circumstances, or a character flaw, or a child’s learning disability. Then brainstorm and plan ways to mitigate these circumstances. Most of all, again, pray and try to refresh your original vision. Perseverance is the key—remember that God gave you the matrimonial graces to form your children.
My experience has been that some of the most difficult moments are actually the moments God uses to bless you most richly, if you allow Him to do so. The “unsuccessful” or “bad” parts are often the very things that you are called to fight against and overcome, and the worthwhile things you are fighting for become stronger and last longer because of your efforts.
God works like a silversmith, burning away what is not good and refining what is. We as homeschoolers are blessed to be able to cooperate in this process. It’s not always easy, but it is worthwhile and the good things, the silver, become durable and beautiful in the refining. For my next ten or twenty years of homeschooling, I am going to try hard to focus on what is good and fight to preserve that, remembering that God blesses my efforts and that the success is up to Him.