Identifying Your Sources of Support
Homeschooling is not an easy job. Some days it may even seem like an impossible job. Staying true to our calling to homeschool requires commitment, sacrifice, an abundance of God's grace and support. What do I mean by support? Well, like a good friendship, it doesn't always work exactly the same. One day it may mean encouragement, the next, it may mean just a listening ear, with no advice given. Sometimes support involves assistance; with curriculum choices, a difficult child's behavior problems, or un-supportive or critical family members. Support may mean many different things but one thing is sure, it is something all of us need. It may not be expressed in the same way, but support, or encouragement, is essential for us to walk in the callings that God has given us. As He has called us, He has also encouraged us, for God is our primary source of encouragement. When you feel overwhelmed, or insecure, or even angry, the Lord is always there, ready and willing to listen. Your feelings will not surprise Him, and it may surprise you how quickly you can obtain freedom from the very real feelings of discouragement.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone, my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and may salvation, He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O People; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-9 (NIV)
Where else does one get support? Hopefully you have the support of your spouse. Husbands who see their wives as serving and blessing their family through homeschooling are strong backbones, holding together tired muscles and limbs, and imparting respect and appreciation for mom's efforts. a husband who assumes the kind of leadership that Christ gave the church encourages, assists, and protects. Jesus' leadership came to the church often as service. Encouraging moments for homeschoolers can come as your husband might see your exhaustion and suggest pizza for dinner, or set money aside for curriculum or field trips.
Many husbands do not have the opportunity to participate in homeschooling as teachers of subject matter due to work schedules. However, the release they give to their wives to homeschool needs to be seen as strong support. Some husbands participate more in the workings of their children's education, and that's fine, but to set standards on husbands of what is or isn't support, may be to violate scriptural command to respect our husbands. Look for the service he offers you and your children and recognize it as support. Don't be drawn into discontentment because of what someone else's husband does. Trust God to put burdens on your husband's heart for changes that need to be made. I have witnessed some amazing changes of heart regarding husbands' support of homeschooling, or their level of involvement with it.
One of the definitions of support is to uphold or defend as valid. Many homeschoolers suffer from self-doubt, or a lack of confidence in their abilities to teach their children. These homeschoolers need the kind of support that helps them see that they are capable and competent ö having your husband's belief in your abilities can go a long way in defeating self-doubt. While I don't encourage women to homeschool without their husband's permission, many women obtain the most minimal encouragementöusually in the form of "You can homeschool, but we'll see how the test scores come out." This permission can translate into a great weight of pressure, especially as testing time draws nigh. Often these men are merely expressing the responsibility they feel to see their children succeed, but it can feel like an insurmountable hurdle to gain their approval. The truth in these situations is usually that time will have to reveal the benefit of your labors. If you face this kind of pressure, you must remember that if you believe that God has called you to homeschool, it is up to Him to bear this burden for you. Turn to Him daily, and slip your head into His yoke, to one of your own making, striving to be perfect or having the kids excel to prove you're doing a good job. While you can't change your husband's or family's perceptions, you can put your energy into trusting God.
A third source of support is often the local support groups. State-wide or national support groups provide many beneficial things, but they cannot provide the kind of support that personal relationships do. Hopefully, the local support groups provide an avenue for sharing one's joys, successes, failures and questions in an atmosphere of mutual respect. If we are all trying to walk in this calling to homeschool, we will try to see each other as co-laborers, and fellow-heirs, not as those who have it together and those who don't. Support groups should not be a place for spoken or unspoken standards to be set that make people feel condemned or rejected. It is each family's responsibility before God to set the standards for their homeschool, not the support group's.
Several years ago, my children and I were attending an end of the year activity for homeschoolers, when a mother of three approached me. I asked how it was going and she told me she would not be homeschooling the next year. I was surprised because she had been very enthusiastic initially, so I asked her why not. She told me, in quiet tones, that after being around her support group, she just knew that she was the only one who struggles and wasn't measuring up, and she couldn't fight her discouragement any longer. I told her I was sorry that she felt that way, and that she probably didn't know the truth about the struggles experienced by those in her support group. Knowing some of the ladies in the group, I could understand this woman's reaction. It seemed difficult for them to be truly honest about day-to-day life, for fear of being seen as a failure.
This is not a new problem. After 27 years as a Christian, I can say with certainty that this is often a problem in the Body of Christ. We all know it is possible to fellowship with a church, even for many years, and not reveal deep and personal feelings or needs. I believe that God is giving us as parents, and our children, the opportunity to experience not only the appearance of godliness (doing the things that look right in front of others) but the power of God in our lives (the ability to obey God no matter what ö even be honest about our weaknesses!) As I have said before, homeschooling provides a daily avenue for our children to see the reality of our walk with God ö that includes our faithfulness and our failures, our acts of kindness and our moments of weakness. This is not to humiliate, but to enable us to walk in the humility that comes from knowing who we are in our flesh, and who we are becoming in Christ. By allowing your children to see this type of relationship with God, they will grow up believing in a God who can truly know them, and still love them. This knowledge may prove to be a strong protection in the years to come.
How do we apply this knowledge to our choice of a support group? Look for a group where people are themselves. If there is a critical or judgmental air about people, you may want to look elsewhere. If there is an emphasis on a life-style that you do not feel called to (e.g. Large family size) you may want to seek your husband's counsel and God's wisdom before joining the group. Look for a group with some diversity. If everyone goes to the same church but you, that may prove to make you feel uncomfortable. This is, of course, not a rule, but something to consider. I belong to a support group that is made up of families from several churches, and I also fellowship with homeschoolers from my church. I also participate in some city-wide events with homeschoolers who have not declared themselves to be Christians, even though some of them are. These encounters are less frequent than others, but beneficial, as my children learn to relate to these people by following my example, and with my close supervision.
Most importantly, if in your heart, you or your children are always coming up short in relation to others in your support group, try to talk to someone about your feelings. If that doesn't seem to help, you may want to consider trying to find another group. Talk with those you trust spiritually about the situation, and don't just assume it's you that is out of line.
Remember your avenues of support. Three important ones are the Lord, your husband and support group. There may be many others, or even different ones, but the element of support is essential. Without it, we can all grow weary in doing well. By the way, remember the lady I talked with at the field day? I saw her the other day, and she proudly showed me her new baby and said she was back homeschooling. She changed support groups, and though she still has questions about how to teach this or that, she has strength in knowing that she is doing what God has called her to do, and because of that, she can find a group, teaching materials, and other things that fit her needs rather than making herself fit the group or the curriculum. May we all find the strength to follow the calling of God to do what's best for our children, and may we all find the support we need to remain faithful.