Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Homeschooling Daddy

I learned early on that consulting my husband even on things that he has no interest in whatsoever in terms of decision making makes him feel loved, involved, and valued. And when a guy is gone the biggest chunk of the day, truly--every little thing you can do to make him feel like he matters is worth the added effort. Because, as we all know, a man who feels valued is a man whose heart stays close to home and whose actions center around his family.

There have been times when I have had to grit my teeth through some moments when frankly, I didn't give a hoot what his opinion was. For example, seven years ago we moved into our current home. It was our first brand-new place. A total blank slate. White walls, no personality, and endless options. I immediately laid out my plans for decorating: lots of red, some folksy touches, a warm and cozy feel. Mr. Blandings demurred. He's not especially fond of my favorite color, and besides ... one gal's "cozy" is another man's claustrophobic. Fine, I said. Let's just start with the windows. We installed faux wood blinds that we could agree on and a vertical blind on the sliding glass door that fit his budget more than my taste. Then it was on to the pretty part. I came home with a lovely pair of Waverly valances in shades of green, yellow, blue, and red. I hung them up just before Mr. Blandings arrived home from work. When he walked in the front door, the response was less than stellar.

"Are those ...
pears?" he asked, squinting.

"Yes," I answered. "It's a kind of fruit and flower theme."

"Oh. Wow. That's ... yeah ... ho boy."

I took this to mean that Mr. Blandings was not looking forward to coming home every night to the bucolic view of fresh flowers and assorted food stuff decking his windows.

Take two.

Seeing the response Mr. Blandings had had to the first set of valances, I went for a pattern. Happily, I found a gorgeous set of jabots that was anything but stuffy. They were red and yellow stripes, and from the moment I put them up, I was tickled with the way that they warmed the rooms.
Mr. Blanding was not so thrilled.

"It's like something you'd see on a boat. Or a themed restaurant maybe.
Our specials tonight are shrimp scampi ..."

I resisted the urge to slug him, and I took the valances back.

Finally, by take three, I was ready to ask specifics.
What colors do you want? What colors do you not want? What kind of valance do you like? Would you prefer full curtains? What, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish here?
By sitting down and verbally hashing out what each of us had in mind, I was able to find a winner. On take three, I found a winner. Red Country Life toile--my choice. Not too frilly--his choice. Contrasting fabrics--my choice. No fruit or big flowers--his choice.

If you look past the Christmas tree in this pic, you can see a corner of what we ended up with:

By looking past what I wanted, and looking toward what we wanted, a compromise was reached. And in the end, I'll tell you--I've been that much happier throughout the years, knowing that I didn't push my way to what I envisioned as perfect, but instead invested the time to feather a nest that my husband feels blessed to call his home.

Homeschooling our children has worked much the same way. While I know that the vast majority of homeschooling mothers bear the entire burden of selecting and purchasing curriculum, that hasn't been my experience. From the word go--way back when Mr. Blandings had severe doubts about his whole experiment in education ever working out--he was 50% of the choosing team. Sure, I was the one who ordered the catalog and went in search of link to email him for his perusal, but Mr. Blandings stepped up and took his job seriously. After a few years in his new role as Homeschooling Daddy, he even began scouting out ideas on his own. This had been my goal along: keep supplying him with information, and help him to invest in the choices we were making.

Lest you think that my husband has nothing else to do in his spare time, I assure you ... you couldn't be farther off base. Mr. Blandings typically leaves the house at 7:15 a.m. and is rarely home before 6:45 p.m. Outside of his day job, he has plenty of other callings that eat up precious hours. Every weekend, he squeezes in as much kiddo time as he can muster. No one could blame him for passing the buck on choosing homeschool materials to his wife. After all, he's busy. Busy with worthy stuff.

But, he will quickly tell you, there is nothing more pressing in the life of father than being present and vocal when it comes to selecting the things that will speak into your child's life. This is a no-brainer when it comes to orchestrating family devotions, connecting with kids on their spiritual growth, and encouraging their character development as they learn to walk with Christ. Slightly down that ladder, though, you will find yet another serious obligation: the raising up of the child's mind, and the preparation that will lead him or her to eventually be able to fulfill the purpose set out before that child.

Mr. Blandings places a high value on being in the know when it comes to what our kids are learning. And truthfully, I couldn't be happier.

Does this mean that sometimes, he vetoes a particular choice I'm leaning towards? Yeah, it happens. One year, I was especially heartbroken when he gently but firmly told me that I was done writing my own science unit studies. After two years, he said, it was clear that the slice of time this endeavor took up was eating into much more important things in my life. To satisfy my own desire to feel creative and capable while meeting my kids' needs, I was taking time away from other things that needed my attention. And he, as my husband, could see it ... even when I couldn't.

I balked. I pouted. I fumed inside that he had no idea what he was talking about.

And, of course, two months into the new school year, I was thrilled at the new freedom I had found with the few hours a week that was no longer directed towards keeping a science program afloat.

Many, many moms have told me that having their husband "looking over their shoulder" would drive them nuts when it came to choosing curriculum. That it would "take the fun out of it." That homeschooling is "their thing" and they'd prefer their husbands to remain ignorant of what goes on in that area.

I think that while this is probably a very self-gratifying way of going about homeschooling, it misses the point. Your kids are never just your kids. They belong first to God, then to you and your husband. Would you feel that your husband was "looking over your shoulder" if he asked you what day your baby was due? Of course not. This is a group effort. A team approach. An US moment. And while we moms may be the ones teaching the math lesson, we are definitely not the only ones that will be held accountable for the outcome in the end.

Having Mr. Blandings involved does not spoil the fun of the homeschool hunt. It gives me a partner in crime. Rather than spending a chunk of time alone at the computer last night comparing science programs, I got to talk over what I was seeing with my husband. He pulled up a chair, shared a cup of coacoa with me, and debated the pros and cons of the two we had narrowed the options down to. In the end, both still unsure, we prayed. Together. Because of his intimate knowledge of our childrens' learning styles, as well as what we were seeing with these two programs, it was no generic prayer. It was a directed, specific request of God. I had nothing more to add to his eloquent plea for guidance.

This morning, I woke up feeling like one program was more of what we were looking for. At breakfast, I asked Mr. Blandings if he was feeling a leading in one direction or the other. He said yes, and named the program that I had in mind. It was confirmation of what I had been hearing. Now, I could have had the same peace by simply praying alone. But how much sweeter to have a second, invested voice piping alongside my own?

This fall, when I dig into the new school year with gusto and find myself swimming in the new waters of teaching chemistry while nursing a newborn, I will have the ultimate gift that comes from having a husband who shares in my passion for homeschooling: an encourager. Rather than offering a vague, "You can do it!" cheer from the sidelines, I will have a man who can assess our choices and help me think through what works and what doesn't. I will have a guy who will most likely volunteer to take on even more of the day-to-day teaching than he already does (he has taken over several subjects with individual kids, and holds his own version of a homeschool classroom with them on alternating days at 6 a.m.). I will have a partner.

My wish for every homeschooler is that they, too, can taste the joy of that blessing. For every mom who doesn't want her husband involved to see the benefits of letting go. For every disinterested dad to wake up and see what a huge part of parenting he's missing out on. For every family to feel what a powerful, profound gift we have in the homeschooling lifestyle. Homeschooling, after all, isn't just filling your kids up with a prescribed ration of knowledge. It's something much deeper; it's the kindling of a flame that will burn for life in the hearts and minds of the next generation. It's worth investing in. It's worth sacrificing for. It's worth making a priority. For everyone.


Livin' the Dream said...

good things to think about....

midwest mama said...

You are so wise, MG. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

I do want to involve my husband more, it is simply too big a burden for one person (or at least for this person. I feel badly for those who don't have their spouse's support.

We started over recently by praying and talking about our goals for the children's education. Even if you are in agreement and have them in your head, it's very helpful to actually write them out.

Camille said...

Beautiful post! AND I couldn't agree with you more! :)


Fatcat said...

I've had to experience this in my home this year with my Dad's illness and subsequent death, with me having to take care of my mom more, with my son breaking his ankle and needing surgery, my husband has stepped up to the plate and we have all benefited.

I'm kind of ready for some things to go back to normal though I welcome my husband staying involved in school.