I didn’t intend to homeschool. I had a Ph.D. in psychology and I planned to practice part-time and be home with my young children the rest of the time. But then I started homeschooling. I found a way out of the CHAOS through FLYLady and routines, and eventually found that I loved it. Surprised, I found it was a fulfilling career. But as I came to love homeschooling, legalism threatened to destroy it. Here’s how.Listen to the podcast
Why doesn’t everyone homeschool?
Even though I hadn’t wanted to homeschool and only did it at what I believed was the Lord’s urging, I found myself wondering why everyone wasn’t doing it. Scratch that. I found myself judging other Christians for not homeschooling.
[Read Why I Wasted My Education to Homeschool]
It was clearly what God meant in Deuteronomy 6:7, wasn’t it? That’s what so many speakers at Christian homeschool conferences said. It was like the 11th commandment. So why wouldn’t loving Christian parents stay home to make sure their children were raised in the faith? Yes, I knew people who sent their kids to Christian schools. But you couldn’t be too sure what teachers would teach, and you certainly couldn’t be sure of the influence the other kids in the school would have.
My husband and I had a community of like-minded homeschooling friends. When we heard stories of Christian kids gone bad, we trusted in the admonitions of Christian homeschool speakers and authors who served as mentors. If we would keep our children out of Sunday school, youth groups, and the dating scene; if we would keep them from summer camps with public school kids; if we would keep them from reading the books, listening to the music, and watching the movies that other kids did, our kids wouldn’t be like those other kids. They would be better.
If we followed the Christian homeschool plan for our families, we could rest easy that our kids would be Christians (many of them pastors and missionaries) who wouldn’t have premarital sex, wouldn’t have a substance abuse problem, wouldn’t end up living in our basements at 30, and wouldn’t reject us. That was the plan, and we felt great about it.
My husband and I frequently talked about families who weren’t following the Christian homeschool plan like we were. Many of them already had problematic children. We shook our heads with a tsk-tsk. They should have homeschooled or homeschooled the right way.
The homeschool plan failed
Our homeschool went smoothly for years. The kids were agreeable to our plans for them. They would complete a college degree while in high school. They would graduate early without debt or the negative influence of college. They would begin dating when they were ready to marry. Our kids would homeschool their kids.
And then my oldest, a smart, strong-willed child, entered puberty.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next, because you won’t be surprised. Yes, he rebelled against everything. Everything. He wanted to go to college far from home and visit us once or twice a year. He wasn’t sure about the Bible and he didn’t agree with our politics. He wanted a girlfriend in junior high. He became defiant and disobeyed us frequently.
Another homeschooling mom we had just become acquainted with talked to me about his behavior. Underlying every word she said was her judgment:
“You’re not homeschooling the right way.”
I was devastated. I didn’t see the irony at the time, nor did I recognize the truth: I wasn’t homeschooling the right way.
Through many tears, we and our son realized that we were terrified and were acting out of those fears. We were afraid our son would reject the faith, our family, and everything we believed in. He was afraid that if he didn’t see things our way that we would stop loving him.
By the time our oldest asked to go to school, he had become less oppositional. We knew that this was God’s calling for him, and we agreed to it.
[Read Lessons Learned When I Sent My Son to Public School]
But the damage had been done. Here’s what I mean: our oldest son had made our legalism clear. We cared more about our homeschool plan and looking good as parents than we did about him, than we did about our other children, than we did about Jesus. Our son’s period of acting out (which he later related to hormones) tore down our idol of homeschooling. We are so grateful.
What homeschooling without legalism looks like
The first change I noticed when we left homeschool legalism was far less judgment of others. We stopped talking about how this or that family was allowing a teenager to date. We prayed more compassionately for those whose children were struggling. We gave advice less and listened more.
The second change I noticed was far less judgment of ourselves. A legalistic homeschool is very tough to maintain. Everyone has to do good and look good because when they don’t, the parents (as the homeschool leaders) are to blame. Bad behavior led to fear which led to anger. We started taking ourselves less seriously.
The third change I noticed was a shift in responsibility. We had felt entirely responsible for how our kids “turned out.” We came to recognize that we took ownership of responsibilities that were rightly God’s and our children’s. Ultimately, we realized that we couldn’t homeschool our kids into the faith and godly living.
Is Leaving Legalism for you?
What’s funny is that at one time I would have believed it was my responsibility to help you leave legalism. I now know that if God is calling you out of legalism, He is far more effective at that than I could ever be. If the Lord brought you to this page, I do want to suggest that you read the book Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher.
Like me, Kendra is a homeschooling mom who fell for the trap of legalism. She calls legalism “hope shifting.” I love that. When we shift our hope from the finished work of Jesus in our lives and our children’s lives, we are destined to wander in the homeschool desert.
It’s so disappointing, but there aren’t six steps for leaving legalism. 🙂 Instead, like the Underground Railroad, there is a Conductor Who will lead us out of it. I pray you will follow Him.
If our son hadn’t made our homeschool legalism clear, I hate to think what the results would have been for our family. We still love homeschooling but not more than we love our kids and our Lord. Have you ever fallen prey to homeschool legalism? Tell me in the comments.
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Wow! Thank you for sharing this, Melanie. Deep insights. I have struggled with many of the same thoughts you did. I fell for what I call “the homeschool prosperity gospel”. If I do all the right things and don’t do all the bad things, then my life will be easy and wonderful and go according to my plans. It hasn’t, but I am learning to persevere. And I am much more compassionate and sympathetic toward others who are going through struggles, even those of their own making.
John, I love this: “And I am much more compassionate and sympathetic toward others who are going through struggles, even those of their own making.”
Yes! I hadn’t thought of it as “the homeschool prosperity gospel,” but you nailed it. I am so thankful for God’s grace that is available to us all.
I so appreciate your comments.
I see homeschooling as the natural way, just as anything God created, from birth and breastfeeding to herbs and food as medicine, his way is always the right way. His plans and creations are NEVER wrong. Everything that opposes his way brings negative results.
That said, we need to worship the creator, not his creations.
I really appreciate your thoughts, Jen. Thanks for sharing.
Wow, so good! I am just where you were. I thought it I did it all Right… my kids would be great!
Then God gave me 2 special needs children. From the start, nothing went as planned. Both born as preemies, I could not breastfeed. They didn’t sleep through the night until 5 years old…and I did everything by the book!
Homeschooling was the same. But my first child had sensory issues, so she learned while climbing on everything, and my son is Autistic, so he didn’t learn to read until later.
Nothing was according to the things I read in homeschool magazines.
But…I was still RIGHT…homeschooling is THE WAY to go…but, others didn’t, so they were wrong!
Now, my daughter is 15. We still homeschool, but she goes to a Christian school for a couple of classes. I have learned homeschooling is NOT for everyone. And my idea of homeschooling has drastically changed. So many tried to make me try unschooling. It was a flop for our family. I have to do what works for us. Just as others have to do what works for them.
Thank the Lord, He changed my heart towards my Kids, towards others, and myself. But mostly, He turned my heart towards Him!
I am so glad you shared this, Lynda. God is so gracious to us!