Homeschooling with an Iron Fist


NC Wyeth - By Unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NC Wyeth – By Unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why are you homeschooling – really? Be very honest with yourself.

I have the utmost admiration for the hard work and dedication of the homeschooling parents I have met, and despite all of our different methods, the one thing we share in common is a passion to do what is best for our kids. This is not to say that non-homeschooling parents are less dedicated – of course they are. But I will be the first to admit that homeschooling parents tend to have strong opinions about how things ought to be – and this is also one of our weaknesses.

I recently read a fine article by Josh Harris called “Homeschool Blindspots,” which is a very honest appraisal of what went wrong in his own family’s homeschooling experience. He shares very important insights about how his own high expectations and need for control really only served to alienate his son. As a pastor, he related his vision of an ideal upbringing for his children, based on Biblical values, but realized later that he was more concerned with outward appearances than with building genuine loving relationships. His children had become “projects;” a reflection of his own worth as a fatherly role model.

Many parents are guilty of this, myself included. We have visions of our perfect family, of our perfect kids, and how the outside world will perceive us. It’s understandable really, when you think about all the work you do everyday: what do you have to show for it? Your only “result” is your children, and what will people say about you if they turn out badly? We want to be proud of our kids – to hold them up and say “Look what I did!” The temptation to tweak and mold our children to fit our preconceived notions is always there, like an artist working on a sculpture.

N.C. Wyeth, the famous American illustrator and father of painter Andrew Wyeth, homeschooled his children with an iron fist. He was not motivated by religious ideology, but rather a romantic Renaissance vision of perfect childhood. He controlled everything his children did, yet his aim was to make them more creative and original than the other children in public schools. Only the “best” books, poetry, music, toys, art and art supplies were allowed. He even controlled their play, much to the annoyance of all the children. Andrew later wrote, “Pa kept me almost in a jail, just kept me to himself in my own world, and he wouldn’t let anybody in on it. I was almost made to stay in Sherwood Forest with Maid Marion and the rebels.” Fortunately, since Andrew was the youngest child, his father had either given up or grown tired of controlling everything, so Andrew had a bit more freedom than his harassed siblings.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what your reason is for homeschooling, if the reason is getting in the way of building genuine loving relationships with your kids. And genuine relationships are based on trust, not control. Now, I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t have any control, because kids actually like to have some structure. Sometimes it is comforting to have boundaries – and different kids will crave different levels of freedom. But here are some clues to let you know when your personal vision has taken over, at the expense of all else:

  • Do your kids feel comfortable talking to you? Are they ready to share their feelings with you?     (If so, that means they are not afraid of your judgement.)
  • Do you have a vision of what your child could be? Can you let it go?      (If so, that means that whatever your child becomes is up to her, and that is OK)
  • Do you have any hobbies or interests, or a life that does not revolve around your kids?    (If so, that means you are not living your life through them)
  • When was the last time you really laughed?    (It’s best not to take ourselves too seriously – a light heart loves best!)

Probably the best way to tell if you are over-controlling is if your kids are rebelling, and then it is time to do some serious soul-searching. Try to understand your motivations. How much are you influenced by other people’s opinions? By your own upbringing? By idealized visions of perfection? The thing is, it never works to try to “fix” someone else. We can only fix ourselves, or try, and spend the rest of our time loving our fellow imperfect beings the best we can. Unconditional love* for our children is more powerful than any form of discipline or training program, because it will help them stand on their own, with full faith and confidence in their own worth – not forever looking to us for approval.

*Side Note: Lest I forget to mention it, unconditional love is not the same as “smothering,” because those parents that smother their kids are really living through them, in an attempt to fulfill their own complicated needs. This is a good way to raise military leaders or dictators though, such as Hitler, Stalin, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, FDR, Nietzsche, and others. The authors of Cradles of Eminence, a study of the childhoods of more than 700 famous men and women, found that “When the mother-dominated and mother-smothered are considered as one unit, they include 64 percent of the military men, adventurers, and dictators . . . These children described their parents variously as adamant, bossy, strong-willed, overanxious, overprotective, overpossessive, interfering, and especially as dominating.” (p. 131 of 2nd Edition)


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