by Dr. Lisa Dunne
In his 1936 essay “The Capitol of the World,” Ernest Hemingway tells the story of a teenager named Paco and his broken relationship with his father. When Paco runs away from home, his father begins a long, failed journey to find him. One day, in desperation, the father puts an ad in the local newspaper that reads, in short, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” The next morning, the father walks outside, only to find 800 men named Paco standing outside the newspaper office hoping to restore a broken relationship.
We’ve all heard of the crisis of relational attachments today, and like the proverbial prodigal son, Paco’s story is both a heartwarming echo of reunion and a cautionary tale of dysfunction. As homeschoolers, we often think ourselves impervious to such relational superficialities because of the sheer volume of time we spend with our children. But it’s not time alone that creates the bond. Sometimes, we just need to put aside our academic checklist and listen to the heartbeat of our home.
When my daughter hit 6th grade, she suddenly wanted to engage in deep conversations with me at the start of our school day. My “teacher” brain was suspicious: Is she stalling to avoid outlining that essay? Is she apprehensive about that algebra assessment? Today, I am so thankful that I didn’t ignore her relational invitation, demanding that she press on like a good soldier with another math problem. Instead, against my natural inclinations, I savored the moment. Today, as a college student, my daughter invites me daily into her life. When most girls her age tragically shun their parents’ advice and affection, she welcomes both. Our family has built a relational resilience through the daily discussions made possible through homeschooling.
As you will hear me cite often, the number one predictor of socio-academic success is an involved parent. Period. The larger culture tries to tell us that children outgrow their parents’ influence as they reach milestones like potty training, letter formation, or bike riding, but the exact opposite is true. The more intentional time we spend with our children, from kindergarten to college, the more successful our children will be in every sphere of life! This fruit is what drew me to homeschooling 20 years ago: The socio-emotional intelligence homeschoolers exhibit is largely the result of being trained by parents instead of peers, discussions instead of lectures, sentient beings instead of electronic screens.
In one of my all-time favorite studies, psychologist Harry Harlow (1958) assessed social isolation in rhesus monkeys. He demonstrated that without a base of maternal love, baby monkeys would not feel secure enough to perform normal monkey behaviors such as warding off threats or exploring their primate worlds. These studies echoed findings from John Bowlby’s (1950) work on the “secure base” as well as the maternal deprivation studies at the Aspen Neurobehavioral Conference. The lack of maternal love in the early years can result in long-term cognitive and socio-emotional challenges later in life. It’s that simple. We sometimes forget that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Moms matter.
Maybe you came from a home that didn’t value attachment. I understand that. My mother and father married and divorced seven different people, and my life was anything but stable growing up. As a result, I had to learn and heal and be mentored so that I could pass on secure attachments to my children. Love must be our ultimate motivation.
Researchers have assessed the physiology of love under the microscope, analyzing the role of the brain’s limbic system (the area of the brain that houses emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory and smell) and its role in love, attachment, and social bonding. The findings should inform our behavior: Our nervous systems are not just psychologically but also physiologically attuned to our closest relationships.
When we think of the popular love passage that is so commonly read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13, we often connect the context to romance. Interestingly, though, there is actually no specific nod to romantic love in this passage. The word love here is translated not as eros but as agape, a word that means “love, affection, goodwill, benevolence, and brotherly love.” Consider the impact on our homeschool environment when goodwill and benevolence suddenly become our measurable objectives!
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing, [Paul said]. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
This same type of love, agape, is extolled in Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” We all experience those inexplicable homeschooling days when it feels like enemies “foreign and domestic” have invaded our living rooms. Our young students may push their boundaries. They may upset the proverbial apple cart. They may fail to focus on what we determine to be the business of the moment. Instead of allowing small frustrations to mount and create emotional walls, we must learn to demonstrate a consistent agape love for our children, a balance of nurture and admonition that will help reset the foundations of insecurity and anxiety that is plaguing their generation.
If there’s one singular action that has the latent capacity to shift the culture of our nation, I believe homeschooling is that agent of change because at its core, that’s what homeschooling truly is, an invitation to relationship. Parents, let’s not allow the measurable outcomes of the world’s system to drive our homes into a frenzy. Instead, let’s take time to savor the relationship that homeschooling affords us. If we do, we will see a generation of children like Paco experience the restoration of Luke 1:17, as the hearts of fathers and children are reunited, redeemed, and restored.
About Dr. Lisa
Dr. Lisa Dunne is a lifelong homeschooler, and the president of Chula Vista Christian University. She is on a mission to help parents break free of the traditional education system. She has written several books, including Outsourced: Why America’s Kids Need an Education Revolution. Her radio show airs every Saturday at 10:30 pm and her podcast is The Communication Architect. She has been married to her British husband, Adrian, for 32 years, and they have homeschooled their children from kindergarten through college. Learn more about her work at CVCU.us.