My daughter is seven, going on seventeen. You think the toddlerhood is challenging–wait until you hit the pre-tween stage! Not only are kids this age seeking independence, much like their toddler counterparts, but they actually have the capacity to be, in some areas. Throw in a much larger vocabulary, attitudes picked up from peers (yes, even homeschooled ones), and an inexplicable propensity to whine when one doesn’t get what they want, and you have yourself innumerable opportunities for discipleship.
As homeschooling parents, we have the unique opportunity to disciple our kids in the midst of most any circumstance. Whether a poor attitude toward schoolwork, unwillingness to complete chores, or a general “me first” outlook on life, our daily lives are rife with situations where our kids need love and guidance from us. Discipleship is more than just discipline or teaching children to be obedient or to behave, though that’s certainly part of it. Discipleship is teaching our children to be followers of Jesus; disciples of Christ. I can only imagine the missed chances that non-homeschooling parents have to walk through a situation with their child.
In addition to the natural age-related independence seeking, December is kind of a crazy month. On top of all of our usual responsibilities, we usually have extra things thrown in our schedule–parties, outings, performances–plus shopping, baking, cooking, and decorating. Throw in working part-time and trying to get all the projects done so you can actually take some time off and enjoy the holidays with your family, all the added chaos and stress makes for a perfect storm.
Just last week, we encountered one of those moments. My daughter has picked up an “I hate school” attitude recently (if only she knew how great she has it!). However, once we get started with our day and she has some successes in her school work, her attitude typically improves. The key is getting to those positive moments quickly or it can be a battle to get most anything accomplished that day.
This particular day, I had a project to get done in the morning for work. It would take me an hour or two. When I’m under a deadline, sometimes, I have to resort to allowing her to watch television so I can work uninterrupted. Unfortunately, I have found attitudes are a bit more challenging after even a short time with a TV screen. This day was no different.
As we sat down to practice reading some high frequency words, I could tell she was a bit more squirrely than normal. I took a deep breathe as we started in. I was distracted and hadn’t shuffled the cards, so all the words she knew really well were on top. She flew through the first 15 or so words with ease. “Dog. Dad. And. Land. Cat.”
When we reached end of the ones she recognizes at word level, she started sounding out the ones she doesn’t yet. We got through just one or two when she started “acting out.” She was on the hardwood floor of our living room, cocooned in a blanket. She covered her head and started inching herself along the floor like a caterpillar. I took a deep breath.
I gently reminded her that she couldn’t read the words if she couldn’t see them. Her head popped out of the blanket, then an arm and a leg as she untangled herself from the blanket. She looked at the card again. “/d/” she said, beginning to sound out the word, “did.”
Then, in her mind, our living room became a yoga studio as she contorted her body into various poses (not sure any of them were actual yoga poses since we don’t do yoga, but you get the idea). I took deep breath again as I redirected her back to the word she was trying to read. “What’s the sound in the middle?”
Her face appeared from between her arm and leg, upside down. “/d/.” I took another deep breath, getting more frustrated by the minute. “Okay, what’s the next sound?”
She stood up, grabbed the card from my hand and ran to her bedroom, yelling along the way “I’m going to read it in my room.”
I hollered back, “Get back out here!”
“I’m reading in my room,” came her response.
I knew that sometimes, she just need time alone to adjust her attitude and she would be back out, ready to tell me what the word on the card was. I let her alone for a few minutes before I heard the sound of toys clinking together coming from her room.
“It’s not time to play. Bring the card back here and tell me what it says. Now.”
She came running out from the hall as she tossed the card in my general direction. “I dooonnnn’t knoooooow” she whined as she raced by.
“If you would sit down and look at the word, you would be able to read it,” I said curtly.
She was now racing back and forth across the living room, using the blanket to slide part of the way.
I’m not proud of it, but I snapped. I had reached my breaking point. I screamed at her. I threw the card down. Did she not understand that I was trying to help her? I explained to her (in a raised voice), “I already know how to read. I’m trying to help you. Don’t you want to be able to read?”
“NO! I don’t care!” and off she stomped to her bedroom. “You’re the worst mommy ever.”
I let her go. We were both too heated. We needed to calm down. She slammed the door to her bedroom as I headed to mine, collapsing on my bed, almost in tears of exasperation. The thoughts started to creep into my head.
Maybe I wasn’t a good mom. Maybe I’m not a good teacher. Will she ever learn to read? She surely should be reading by now. Maybe working is too much for our family. Maybe…
I heard a little voice from my door…”Mommy.”
I turned to her. “Yes?”
“I want to learn to read,” her eyes downcast, face sullen.
My heart broke. I know as a mom, I’m not perfect. I could be more structured and disciplined with her, her schoolwork, her routine. I know I make mistakes. I know I can work to be better.
I called her over to sit with me on my bed as I wrapped my arms around her. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly to her. “Mommy got frustrated and reacted out of anger and that’s not okay. Will you forgive me? I will try harder next time.”
“I forgive you. I will try harder too. I love you.”
We held each other for a few more minutes before going to back to the living room to continue to practice reading. She still struggled with words she should know by now, but she was trying. And I was doing my best to be encouraging and positive.
Moments like this are why I’m so glad I homeschool. Not only are we able to teach our children reading, writing, math, science, history–the academics, but we have the unique opportunity to disciple our kids, even in our humanness. We can have conversations about Jesus, the Bible, our attitudes, our choices…our mistakes…forgiveness, repentance. All of this is infinitely more important than any “book knowledge” our children may pick up along the way.
We still have almost daily struggles with attitude and work ethic. We are definitely a work in progress. Both of us. But we are learning. Together.