When a parent chooses to stay at home full time, it is a tremendous blessing to the children and entire family.
Running a household frugally and efficiently on one income takes creativity and commitment, and the family benefits when a parent is dedicated to overseeing the emotional, educational, and physical needs of the children.
But the parent who stays home may have some doubts about what being a stay-at-home parent will cost them personally.
It's common for a mom to be the one who stays home for a variety of reasons, and since I am also a stay-at-home mom, I'm going to address the issues I've dealt with because of that choice.
- My own education and career
- What it means to be a whole person
- What my family would see in me
- How I work to maintain sensible priorities
My education and career
When we made the decision to homeschool, Ken and I were both working full-time at a large mortgage bank. Seth had just started first grade at a private religious school, and we were unsatisfied with his learning experiences. We had been talking about homeschooling for a long time, and I loved the idea of being my son's teacher. We finally took the plunge, and I gave notice at work and withdrew Seth from school to begin homeschooling.
I knew at the beginning that homeschooling would be a temporary thing. Not that I thought homeschooling was a short term solution - I planned to homeschool until graduation. But that's just it - eventually kids graduate, and there I'd be, with who knows how many years of homeschooling behind me, and who knows what in my future.
I felt the same pressures most women feel: to be a stay-at-home mom, to have a career, to try to do both, and this pressure came from all directions.
There is the invisible burden of Those Who Have Gone Before and paved the way for women to have the freedoms we now enjoy. I never thought of myself as a feminist because of all the rhetoric surrounding the term - but there was a time when feminism used to be about equal opportunities. Now it's just a tool for political maneuvering. Freedom means choice, period. If women don't feel free to do what they believe is best for themselves and their family, then they aren't truly free.
So I made the choice to not pursue management opportunities in my department at the bank, and instead focus on my child's education. I have a degree in education from an unaccredited private religious college, so in a sense, I was going to be using my college education more as a homeschooler than as a legal specialist at a mortgage bank. Others have training and certifications in areas unrelated to education, and wonder about the wisdom of setting aside their professional experience for a time in order to homeschool. I didn't have quite as much invested in my college education, nor did I feel that particular conflict as strongly as others might.
But I did wonder how I would be continuing my own education while I homeschooled my children.
What it means to be a whole person
What does it mean to be a whole person? I think Paul said it best in Phillippians 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Although healthy relationships are built on inter-dependency, it comes from a place of being able to find sufficiency in Christ and to a certain degree, in yourself.
I realized after a few years of marriage and motherhood I couldn't expect others to bear the burden of my expectations and my happiness. I had to take care of myself in order to take care of them. I needed to educate myself to provide an education for my child.
To show my son life in the real world, I had to stay open-minded, keep current on world events, adopt new technologies, and be involved in life outside of our four walls. The way I choose to homeschool builds a bridge for my children into their futures.
Even after three more children came along, I kept reading, exploring, and interacting with others in the community, and with the internet, around the world. I kept trying new things, developing new skills. I started blogging about my experiences and learning from others. I realized that these activities kept me engaged and energized, and in turn, I could be good role model of teaching and learning for my kids.
And more importantly, through good times and bad, I began to work harder to maintain my integrity and sense of self.
What my family would see in me
As tempting as it was to disappear into my role as wife, mother, and homeschooling parent, I felt this wouldn't be a good example to my children. I'm an introvert, and happy to be alone, at home, surrounded by books. But my boys need to see a woman living a full and fulfilling life, and my daughter needs to know she is free to be herself and pursue her interests.
Although we have an enormous amount of freedom, we need to balance those freedoms in such a way that we bring glory to God and are a benefit to those within our sphere of influence. Over the years I've watched family and friends go through struggles and over barriers to sustain and protect a healthy family dynamic. I learned that we should never allow ourselves to feel free to be selfish, abusive, divisive, or hateful. We can maintain our identity as individuals and as Christians, and not allow others to bear the burden of making sure we are satisfied and feel completed.
We sometimes don't realize the wordless messages we send to our kids about the things that are important for a meaningful life. The media tells them that beauty, fame, talent, and money are the keys to success and happiness. We need to provide an alternate message of virtues like compassion, courage, generosity, diligence, and to value things of a more eternal nature. This is the very hard work of parenting-by-example.
If we are caught up in our work, our social life, our hobbies, we are showing them where our love is, where we find meaning and joy. The pursuit of our passions is not wrong, but we need to make sure that those passions are truly worthwhile.
How I work to maintain sensible priorities
Family, homeschooling, church, volunteering, homeschool support group, writing, caring for my own physical and mental health. . . how would I keep all these things in balance?
I started to feel buried in good things that were keeping me from the best things.
How do I decide what was most important and what was trivial? How, in the midst of all the things that make up my personal and family life. could I remain objective and make good decisions?
I am a sucker for organizers of all kinds - notebooks, Post-It Notes, wall calendars and charts, apps and online programs - I could pitch a tent in an office supply store and be happy for days. It's probably a weird obsession, but it is responsible for my habit of writing down my goals and To Do lists, and reassessing them regularly. I get a clear picture of where I've been, where I want to go, how I plan to get there.
Strong relationships are also important for us to maintain reasonable priorities. One of the best things Ken and I ever did in our marriage was to have some time and space to ourselves in the morning to stay in touch with each other, discuss personal and family issues, and work out problems.
A family rule gradually evolved over time - "No serious conversations after 9pm". In the evening, we are tired, our guard is down, and our objectivity is becoming more clouded by the minute. We realized that we didn't seem to accomplish much in the evenings, but our morning talks over coffee were relaxed, enjoyable, and productive. So it became an unwritten rule. This rule has protected our relationship over the years, and help us grow closer in understanding and affection.
I said all that because Ken is my friend, and I am his, and we have a relationship based on honesty that allows us to speak the truth to each other, even when it's not what we want to hear, even when it hurts.
Everyone needs someone in their life who can hold up a mirror and help them see who they are clearly. As much as we would all like to think that we can be completely independent of others, it isn't sane to think that we can stay totally disconnected and still be our best selves. Our friends help us know when we are out of line, when we are pushing ourselves to hard, when we aren't pushing ourselves hard enough.
I also had to keep MY priorities, not someone else's. If I were to be content and creative, I could not look at the possessions, talents, resources, and connections of others. They have their life to live, and I wish them well, but I have to do with what I have in the time that God has allotted me. I don't want to waste a minute of it in covetousness and wishful thinking.
Now that I am near the end of The Raber Homeschool Era, I am looking back without regrets and second guessing. I made mistakes, but I've learned along the way, and I'm not near done learning about how to live a happy and fruitful life.