“What am I doing wrong?” This is a question I’ve asked my husband many times through tears after a day of our boys flat out defying and disobeying me. Why can’t I train them up, guide them, discipline them? Am I not giving them enough love? Is it the food I feed them? Their sleep patterns? Their screen time? My parenting techniques? Have I not consulted enough books? The right books? Am I neglecting to show them the consequence of their sin is the death of Jesus? Or am I showing them it too much so that they don’t think sin matters because of grace? Am I over disciplining and over-parenting so that they need to rebel against it? Am I not giving enough boundaries? Have I provided too many over stimulating activities that they can’t process it all? Have I not provided enough stimulation? And what kind of adults are they going to become?
My husband’s response is always “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re doing a wonderful job.” And I’m so grateful for that encouragement and his comfort – but the truth is I’ve never been able to believe his words. Surely if I was a better mum their behaviour would improve?
But James hasn’t just been telling me I’m doing a good job – he’s been praying for me to know the truths of God. And where James’ words haven’t been able to convince me that it’s not my doing that my children misbehave, the Word of God has. Now, please don’t think I’m about to say that my parenting has nothing to do with their behaviour – we’ll get to that. But what my soul needed to hear, the rest bite it needed from the constant criticism I was throwing at it, was that I am not a failure as a mother because of my children’s behaviour. There are three main truths God has taught me recently which I need to remind myself when I’m listening to lies.
- The Perfect Father has sinful disobedient children. Adam and Eve disobeyed God even when they had the perfect relationship with Him. The disciples sinned even when Jesus was right there with them. Sin is still very much present in the lives of everyone. Does this mean that God has failed in his parenting? I think not. My children are no less sinners in need of the grace of God than me, and so their behaviour will be no less sinful. In thinking I can eradicate sin in their lives through my parenting I sinfully elevate myself to the position of Saviour.
- There’s no simple formula between parenting and a child’s behaviour. Of course my parenting impacts my children’s behaviour – I’m coming to that. But look as Josiah in the Bible – the boy king who restored the temple and bought the people back to God. His father was truly evil (this is one of the reasons why we called our second born ‘Josiah’). Or Cain and Abel – same parents, totally different outcomes. The impression we get of Timothy in the New Testament is that his father wasn’t a believer, yet he is strong in the faith. You can’t draw a simple direct line between your children’s behaviour and your parenting.
- I am not in control of my children’s behaviour. I believe in a sovereign God. A God whose will cannot be thwarted by my inadequacies. This is far more nuanced and complex than we can think about here (especially as I’m writing this while making dinner!), but God’s not taken by surprise by their behaviour and He’s not panicking about it – and if He’s not, then neither should I.
So, if all the above is true, then what’s the point of trying to parent well? Why not stick them in front of a screen and feed them processed junk all day? Well, there’s a lot of answers I could give here, but it kind of all boils down to this one:
It’s what God’s told me to do, so I need to get my head down and get on with it.
In His Word, God tells us to ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6) and in Deuteronomy we are told to teach our children the ways of God and to bring them up accordingly. This is no insignificant task, and it doesn’t matter whether or not I understand the interplay between these commands and God’s sovereignty – this is what God called me to when He gave me children so, by His grace, this is what I will do.
In Romans 14 we read that we are to take care that we do not cause another to stumble. And in Matthew we read an even more damning instruction –“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”. So when we make it harder for our children to obey, perhaps by feeding them unhealthy food, or giving them too much screen time, or shouting without taking care to deal with the underlying problem, or not ensuring they feel secure in our love, we sin. We absolutely must do all we can to make the path to obedience as smooth as possible through the way we parent. But, never forget, that there is grace for you too. We are all sinners, and this is so very regularly evidenced in our parenting. But Jesus’ blood has atoned for all our sins – even those we commit while parenting.
Someone asked me in passing the other day what advice I’d found most helpful in being a mum, and I didn’t really have an answer. I’ve been thinking about what it might be – what of all the advice I’ve had would I pass on? I was thinking about everything I’d read before having Boaz – what had stayed with me as vital? To be honest, although lots of it was helpful, like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, or has helped me understand child development, I’m not sure any of it is what I’ve found to be most important in motherhood. So, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve realised that, not only was none of it vital, none of it was what I really wish the books had said. So, for what it’s worth, this is what I wish the baby books had actually said.
We’re reaching the end of August and, for many, thoughts are starting to turn to the start of the new school term. I want
ed to write this post because, when I say to people that we home-educate, a response I often get is ‘I’d love to do that but I can’t because…’ – and, indeed, I often find I have many of the same concerns. I want to encourage you that, if home-educating is something that you really are considering, that it is something you can do. Of course there are hurdles to overcome, but they’re often not as large as we might imagine.
This isn’t a post about why we chose to home-educate or to put forward the argument to home-educate. Hopefully I will write that one day, but it’ll be a much longer post, and I’ll need to re-read some books to write that. This is a post to encourage those who genuinely do want to home-educate but have reservations. I’m hoping to cover the main ones I hear, but if you would love to home-educate and you have some questions I don’t answer, do feel free to ask in the comments.
I wish I could home-educate, but…
…I don’t know how to take my child out of school.
Believe it or not, this is actually surprisingly simple. The law is clear that a child’s parents have to ensure that a child is suitably educated – but that this does not have to happen at school. School is one option parents may chose to ensure their child gets a suitable education, but it is byno means compulsory and certainly doesn’t need to be considered the default.
So, if your child has never been to school then you simply don’t send them. You don’t have to ask permission or register: your child’s education is your responsibility, not the state’s, and you have the option to choose to send your child to school, but equally the option not to. If your child is already at school, you will need to send a de-registration letter to the school informing them of your decision. You may find the website www.educationotherwise.net helpful in giving further information and draft letters. Click on the ‘HE and the law‘ tab to find the relevant information.
…I’m not clever enough.
I think there are three things I’d like to say to encourage you here. Firstly, there are an awful lot of resources to help out there: books, dvds, online courses, home-ed group classes, one-to-one tuition. You don’t need to hold all the necessary information at the outset.
Secondly, there are various different home-education methods and philosophies, but a lot of home-educators take, to varying degrees, something of a child-led approach. That is, we explore what the child is interested together in and learn alongside them, rather than ‘teach’ them in the traditional sense of the term. Obviously there’s a lot to be said about this, and it is very different to the ‘norm’ and so may jar a little, but books from the likes of John Holt, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Ross Mountney, and Jan Fortune-Wood will help to explain it further.
Thirdly, I have the utmost respect for teachers: I think they do a phenomenal job for very little respect. But, they’re not omniscient either. There are things they don’t know too. They may know the national curriculum far better than me, and they may know more about child development than me, but they don’t know my child better than me, and they simply don’t have the time to help my child explore the particular questions and interests that they may have.
…I don’t have any teaching qualifications.
Nope, me neither. And there’s no legal requirement for you to at all. If you’re worried that this might mean you are not capable of teaching your child, remember that a lot of teaching is about helping a class of 30 learn together – that’s not what you’ll be doing. You’ll be helping guide your child’s exploration and education. Also, there are a lot of teachers who home-educate because they don’t want their children to be a part of the school system – they find that the whole school system inhibits their ability to actually teach.
…I need my ‘me time’.
I absolutely agree that we all need a chance to re-fuel and to prepare ourselves for the work God has given us. However, I’m not sure I agree with the notion of ‘me time’, as I explain in a previous blog post. It is, of course, important to be intentional about building in rest time and ‘re-fueling’ time – I often have a bit of a lie in on a Saturday morning and during the week I like to go for a run and have a bath in the evening. But it’s also important to remember that raising school aged children is a calling and requires sacrifice – and if you truly believe that home-educating wouldbe beneficial to your children, perhaps that sacrifice is in giving up some of what you need for a season, to provide your children with what they need.
I guess this is similar to the above point: if you truly want to home-educate then, for a time, it may be that your job needs to be sacrificed. I know this seems easy to say from my point of view – we’ve only ever had one income as Boaz was born so soon after I finished my degree that I’ve never worked, and so we’ve always lived within the means of one income. We’ve never bought a house, or gone on holiday abroad (apart from our honeymoon), or eaten out often, or had two cars, or had contract smart phones – and so we’ve never had to give any of those things up for me to stay at home. But I have had to make sacrifices to do this – turn down opportunities, come to terms with it being unlikely that I’ll ever have a ‘career’, losing touch with friends because I can’t afford to do many of the things they do. But I would readily make the same decision again, because I believe home-educating to be that important to the nurturing of my children.
It’s also worth noting that there are home-educators who do work – they figure it out with their partners so that one of them is always at home, or they have family who are able to help out. I know not everyone has this option, but sometimes it’s worth thinking creatively.
…My children are so different.
I hear you on this!! I really don’t know how it’s possible to have three boys all 5 and under who are already so so different!! And not just because of their different ages, but they are just so different in interests, personality, temperament, skills and learning styles. The reality is, your child is unlikely to be the same as the other 30-ish children in their class! And if they seem to be, it may well be at the detriment of their own unique selves being able to flourish.
…I can’t afford to.
Home-educating does bring with it some extra costs – there’s no denying that! The resources and facilities that school-educated children get freely, home-educated children don’t. That said, with the current surge in home-education a lot of places are offering ‘home-education’ rates which match the school rates. And there are a lot of things that can be done for free, and resources that can be picked up second hand. Also, if you like an annual holiday, you won’t need to pay peak prices to go during the school holidays! And you don’t have to do everything – one thing I’ve really learnt to value is simplicity of life and how children can flourish with time simply spent together reading or baking or playing board games.
…I’m a single parent.
I’m afraid I can’t really speak into this: I’m married and my husband is very supportive of our home-educating. There are single parents who home-educate and are doing a fantastic job! If you’re a single parent who is interested in home-educating, perhaps I could help put you in touch with someone who might be able to alleviate some of your concerns.
…Getting my children to do their homework is enough of a challenge.
As I’ve already mentioned, the approach to education in home-education is often very different to that in school education. This means that that horrendous experience sat at the kitchen table trying to get your uninterested child to please do their home work or else therewon’t be any fun ever again while you empty a bottle of gin each evening won’t have to happen. Your child will be exploring things that interest them and developing skills that are suited to them – and so are likely to become much more motivated, self driven learners. Do hunt out some of the authors mentioned above if this sounds exciting but a bit crazy!
…My children won’t have enough socialising time.
I think the response to this is twofold. Firstly, there is plenty of time to socialise! In fact, I have to make sure that I keep in check not over scheduling us. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I think we maybe need to reassess what it means to socialise. As adults we socialise with, usually, smaller groups with people of varying ages, andbetween all of whom there is some element of ‘give and take’: we offer friendship and support, and we receive friendship and support. This, to my mind, is normal socialising – but it bears very little resemblance to the school classroom or playground where there are 30+ children of similar ages all with very similar needs to be met from a very limited number of adults. By being with (or near) my child during a lot of their social interactions, I’m able to help guide them through the ups and down and complexities of social interaction which will, I hope, enable them to become compassionate, resilient, understanding and sensitively assertive adults. In the school classroom and playground there are simply not enough adults to give what, I believe, is the necessary attention to children’s interactions to help them grow into the kind of adults society needs.
…My child is thriving at school.
I ask this sensitively – but are they? I was a typical ‘thriver’: high grades, gifted and talented registered, good reports, nodetentions, solid group of friends, got on well with the system, deputy head girl, certificates and awards. But, as I’ve reflected on some of the issues and attitudes I have today, things that have held me back and caused me hurt, I’ve found that I can trace a large number of them back to my school years. I would say my conclusion is this: I conformed, so it seemed I thrived – even to myself. The truth, it has turned out, is very different. I would tentatively suggest that the school environment, which needs so much conformity to function, cannot be a place that allows for the true thriving of individuals.
…My child won’t get to play sports.
I think sometimes we have rose tinted glasses when we think about the sports that children get to play at school. So many sports resources are not allowed during breaks because of health and safety, PE is not exactly a huge part of the timetable and, when it is, trying to get 30 children to all have a go at whatever is being played means not a massive amount of time for each child. In reality, to actually play any sport consistently, it needs to be done in an extra-curricular setting – which you’ll have a lot more time for home-educating.
…I’d worry I was failing my child.
I worry about this everyday. I don’t really think I’d worry about it any less if my child was at school: I’d just find other things to worry about failing them at. And I’d worry the school was failing them (though at least then I’d have someone else to blame!). The authors I’ve mentioned earlier in the post might help to calm your fears as they explain the benefits of different approaches to education. Something else I’ve found help
ful is to really think and reflect on the question: What’s the point of education? And what’s the point of childhood? What do they need to learn? Why? What are they going to do with it? How should they learn it? Who should decide what they learn? What do I want to shape my child? What do impact do I want their childhood to have? What kind of childhood do I want them to have? What kind of adults do I want them to grow into? Where do I want them to find their identity? How do I want them to treat other people? What do I want them to value and pursue? These are questions that I can’t answer for you, but I found that there was no place for the state school system in my answers to these questions.
I hope that this may encourage you that home-educating is not something unattainable or with too many hurdles to overcome. Of course it’s not easy – something with such a high calling as parenting should never be easy. But it is absolutely doable, and school-educating does not need to be the default just because we’re scared of what home-educating might mean.
Having three boys, something I hear a lot of is ‘So, are you going to go for the girl?’. In fact, it’s something I started hearing pretty much as soon as we had the 20 week scan with Boaz and found out he was a boy. Usually this question just elicits a nervous laugh from me, and an attempt to change the subject quickly. But I’m going to give a proper response here because a) I think this is something that does need a proper response and not just glossing over and b) I want my children to grow up knowing that they are dearly loved and wanted for who they are.
So here is my answer to that bizarre question.
We are not ‘going for the girl’. Firstly, biology dictates that this is impossible. But, aside from this, children are a gift from the sovereign Lord. He knew them before the beginning of time. He has fearfully and wonderfully made each one of them. And He has ordained that each one of our children, thus far, should be boys. And in a world where society seems to say that it is OK for men to act as boys and shirk their responsibilities as fathers and husbands, what an honour and a privilege to be tasked with a ministry to raise Christian men of the next generation who will, Lord willing, be men of God in whatever He calls them to.
So to all my children, present and any future children, I want to say this: You are fearfully and wonderfully made and we are honoured and blessed that God chose to task us to be your parents. We love you. You. And we do not wish that you had been anyone other than who you are.
To any future boys that God may bless us with: You were not supposed to be a girl. We are so pleased that God has blessed us with you. We love you. Never feel that you’re only here because we were hoping for a girl.
To any future girls that God may bless us with: You are a blessing from the Lord and we love you. There is no expectation for you to be anyone other than you are. We were not holding out for you, in that we were not holding out for someone to put in dresses or do ‘girly’ things with. Please never feel a burden to be ‘girly’. We love you because you are you.
Boaz turned 5 today. People always say it – but that 5 years went by unbelievably quickly! I’ve been on a very steep learning curve, and I’m still learning every day. But here are what I think are the 5 biggest things, in no particular order, that I’ve learnt since becoming a mummy.
- Breastfeeding is hard. Like, really hard. Before Boaz was born, my midwife gave me a DVD of young mums’ positive experiences of breastfeeding (I think because I was 21 I fell into the ‘young mums’ category). Breastfeeding was sold as this wonderful, pain-free, bonding experience which would perfectly nourish my baby and give me time to snuggle and nurture them. Pictures on the walls of the children’s centre were of mums blissfully looking down at their sweetly sleeping baby as he or she nursed peacefully.
I’m calling time on this tosh. What a lot of rubbish. Now, if you’re one of the lucky ones who seems to feed with no problem, then feel free to ignore the rest of this point. But for the rest of us, I want to ask: where on those pictures were the tears of a mummy who was beyond exhausted from sleep deprivation? Where were the pictures of a mum whose breasts were so sore she couldn’t even shower because the water hurt? Or of the mum who had to sleep with muslins shoved down her bra because, for some reason, her body thought she was feeding the 5000, not just the one baby? Whose nipples were so cracked and painful that there was almost as much blood as milk? Who squeezed her husband’s hand when feeding because it was nearly as awful as the labour? Whose heart sank every time she heard her baby wake up because she knew she had to try and latch them on again? And then there’s mastitis. Flu like symptoms?!?! Please! When do you ever have flu but have to wake up every hour to feed a baby? Or when is a standard flu symptom to have excruciating pain in your breasts?
Breastfeeding is hard. That’s the truth. Sometimes it’s full on awful. It hurts, it’s tricky, it’s exhausting – and it’s flipping cold when you’re at the park in the winter with older children. But it does give us some opportunity to reflect on Christ and His suffering. He endured what He did because of His love for us, in the same way as we endure breastfeeding because of the love we have for our children (and perhaps also because it’s free!). That’s not at all saying that mums who don’t breastfeed love their children any less – we’ve just said how horrendous it is and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, breast feeding just won’t work out. But perhaps if we were a bit more honest about this fewer mums would feel shocked and alone when it isn’t the beautiful serene bonding experience it’s supposed to be!
- I am very, very sinful. It’s not like I was under any illusion before I had children that I wasn’t sinful – but having children seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people! I lack patience: I shout at the boys because they haven’t put their shoes on quickly enough. I’m desperately selfish: I’ll make excuses not to play with the boys because I’m checking Facebook. I’m lazy: I’ll stick on the TV or just dish out some punishment rather than try to help my children deal with the attitudes of their hearts. I’m resentful: I grow bitter against my husband that he doesn’t have to do the night feeds. And so the list goes on…
It’s not been especially pleasant having to really acknowledge the extent of this side of me over the last few years. But it has, nonetheless, been encouraging, because it is not the healthy in need of a Physician…
- Jesus isn’t Supernanny. Obviously. But all too often I found myself desperately pleading with God that he would somehow reveal himself in this way. How, I asked, can He really love my children if He’s given them to me with no clue of what to do? The answer, I’ve come to realise, is two-fold.
Firstly, God has revealed Himself through His Word. If I take the time to study Scripture and prayerfully read it, then I will come to know more and more the heart of God. It might not give me ‘3 easy steps’ to follow when I don’t know what I’m doing, but it will lead me closer to raising my children as Christ would have done. Over the years, I’ve got to know my husband more and more, and so I’m more able to make decisions that I think he would make, even though it may be a completely new situation. The same is true of God: the Bible may not tell me exactly how much sugar I should allow my children to have a day, but it does teach me about God and that our dependency and comfort should be in him, not in sugary treats. And it does teach me that we are created in the image of God, and that God had a physical body in Jesus, and so how we treat our physical bodies does matter.
Secondly, Supernanny goes into a home, shows them how to fix the problem, and then leaves them so that they have control of the situation themselves. This is not what God is in the business of doing. In fact, the very idea that God would waltz in, give us 3 easy steps to follow and then leave us to it is the complete opposite to the narrative of the Bible and the Gospel of hope that we have. God did give us rules – to begin with one very simple one, and then a plethora of more complicated but, nonetheless, theoretically do-able rules. And we couldn’t, we simply couldn’t keep them. So Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life fulfilling all the law and then bore the wrath and death that should have been for us, so that we could be forgiven. He did it for us, because we can’t. And the Holy Spirit is given to us to help us in following Christ – but not because we have to or because it has anything to do with our salvation. But because God has works through the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and so we want to follow God’s way, and it is part of our sanctification. Even if Jesus did come as Supernanny, our sinfulness (see above point) would mean we simply couldn’t follow any parenting law perfectly. Parenting law, like any law, would crush us. We need Jesus’ righteousness and grace in parenting as in anything. And we need to walk with Him and pray for the Holy Spirit to work within us. There’s no way we could do this on our own with a set of rules!
- My kids are fun. I assumed that I would love my children, that I would nurture them, that I would read and sing and play with them. But I don’t think I ever expected them to be fun: that I would really enjoy their company. They make me laugh; they lift my spirits with a cuddle; they amaze me with what they’ve observed; they entertain me with stories and shows. Motherhood is hard – but it can also be lots of fun if we let it. We do have to be intentional about it too, though. Sometimes we have to make a determined decision that reading another story cuddled up on the sofa takes priority over being on time, or that sharing a one-off sneaky biscuit when they wake at 3am is going to be more important than our sleep, or that instead of snapping when we feel tired and irritable we’ll take a deep breath and scoop them up for a hug.
- God is awesome. When I first thought about this point, it was going to say something like ‘I’m amazed at what I can achieve’ or ‘I can cope with so much more than I realised’. But neither of these statements is true. At all. What is true is that God really is the Sustainer of life: when you’re so sleep deprived that you think you’re going to throw up and you cry all day, God sustains and somehow you make it through till bedtime. God really is Provider: when you’re run down and overwhelmed, God puts people in your life to share your burdens. God really is Healer: when you’ve taken out all your frustrations on your husband, God works a healing power in your relationship. God really is Sovereign: when nothing makes sense and you can’t see a path through, God knows the path and will take you down it. God really is the Giver of life: when you have nothing left to give, God still uses you to give to your children.
Once there was a little boy called Boaz,
and he was playing Lego with him mummy
on the floor.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
Boaz’s mummy said,
“I wonder who that can be.
It can’t be the milkman
because we go to Tesco.
And it can’t be the delivery man from Asda
because this isn’t the time I booked.
And it can’t be Daddy
because all the trains are delayed.
We’d better open the door and see.”
the door, and
there was a big,
officious, OFSTED inspector.
The inspector said,
“Excuse me, but
I’m very important.
Do you think
I could have
a word with you?”
said, “All right,
So the inspector came into the lounge and sat down on the sofa.
Boaz’s mummy said, “What would you like to know?”
But the inspector didn’t just answer the question.
He took all the Lego Boaz was playing with
and put it in the box with one big swipe.
And he still looked grumpy,
so Boaz offered him some play dough.
But the inspector didn’t play with the play dough.
He put all the play dough in the tub.
And the he cleared away all the cars,
and all the paints,
until there was nothing
left to play with on the floor.
So Boaz’s mummy said,
“Would you like to see some writing?”
And the inspector went
through all the books on the book case
and all the puzzles in the draw.
And then he looked round the house
to see what else he could find.
He looked at all the toys
that were floating in the bath…
…and all the crayons in the tin
… and all the flour and sugar in the kitchen…
…and he inspected all the DVDs,
and all the musical instruments,
and all daddy’s books
and all the teddies in the bed.
Then he said
“Thank you for an informative visit. I think I’d better go now.”
And he went.
Boaz’s mummy said, “I don’t know what to do. I had no lesson plans for the inspector, he’s seen it and made notes on it all.”
And Boaz found he couldn’t have his story time
because the inspector had removed all the books without subjunctive clauses.
Just then Boaz’s daddy came home.
So Boaz and his mummy told him what had
happened, and how the inspector had cleared away all the toys
and taken all the Bibles.
And Boaz’s daddy said, “I know what we’ll do.
I’ve got a very good idea. We’ll put on our coats
and go to a park.”
So they went out in the rain, and all the umbrellas
were up, and all the cars had their wipers on, and they
walked across a field to the park.
And they had a lovely playtime with
tree climbing and mud and puddles.
In the morning
Boaz and his mummy
and they played
lots of dressing up.
And they also made
a very big poster of
Spelling Rools, in case
the inspector should
come to see again.
But he never did.