How Homeschooling Helped Us Stay Together
by Beverley Paine, March 2008
Years ago I came across the term 'co-dependent' and decided that it aptly described our marital relationship. Engaged at eighteen, Robin became a substitute for my parents and I for his. Three children by the time we were twenty-eight ensured a huge learning curve for both of us, one that really tested our commitment to our marriage. We made the decision to home educate the year our youngest was born. Add chronic health problems and addiction to owner-building and you have a potent mix for marital disaster!
In February this year we celebrated our 29 th wedding anniversary. It feels like a mammoth achievement, made no less wonderful by the fact that every week we fight the battle to stay together... and win.
For many years our co-dependency meant that we were both too frightened to leave each other, though we didn't know that at the time. I was determined to prove that world peace begins at home, though most of the time I was the cause of marital disharmony. Arrogance, intolerance, ignorance - I am guilty of all. And I'm sure Robin would readily plead similarly. With age comes wisdom, but only if it's sought or fought for.
My insistence on getting to the heart of conflict, rather than burying it or brushing it aside where it would linger and fester, cost Robin years of happiness and his relationship with his parents. I was constantly a pain in the-you-know-where. What happened had both negative and positive consequences. My need to argue and test my answers caused grief but it brought the wisdom I needed to help me grow. Robin's steadfast nature kept him in a relationship that often gave little joy, but one in which he felt secure. It took more than a quarter of a century but finally I discovered what I needed to feel okay about myself giving us a chance to move beyond co-dependency into the kind of grown-up relationship we both deserve.
You may be asking at this point, 'What has all this to do with homeschooling?' It is my belief that it was our children who grew us up, helped us become adult enough to face our demons and responsibilities. Their unconditional love for us modelled a better way of relating to others. My need to be honest about my emotional life instilled in them the courage and ability to challenge the worst of our behaviour, and to truly be there for us, creating a space where we could each feel safe and useful. Without this constant in our lives I think we would have floundered and lost our way.
I made homeschooling bigger in our lives than simply our family teaching our children at home. It was a symbol of hope for a society failing its children. It was my path to find myself: by being the best parent I could be, I was, in effect, parenting myself. By championing my children and protecting them, I championed and protected myself. Home education gave us the space and time to heal me. It wasn't easy for any of us, but time has shown that it has made us wiser, more self-aware and compassionate people.
Health issues have made sure that quality parenting and educating moments from me were largely a matter of hit and miss. Homeschooling allowed my children access to me when I was at my most brilliant. Had they been at school they may have missed these moments! Seeing me in all my many moods and moments my children have learned to accept me as I am, right now. They truly know me. That helped me accept myself. It's the same for Robin. Children are amazingly resilient. It's because they need us so much that they hang in there, forever trusting that we'll eventually lift our game. I knew how much children of divorced parents want reconciliation: our task was to reconcile our differences and disputes every day so that divorce wasn't necessary. It wasn't easy. The cost was great - we shunned anyone and everyone that offered what we thought was the easier path: trial separation, or periods of 'time out' from each other, and other suggested 'easy' fixes such as give up home education. We knew our children would not want separation. And the child still lurking in each of us didn't want separation.
Ultimately staying married was a selfish path, one maybe not in the absolute best interests of the children, but only they can be the judge of that. In the beginning Robin and I acknowledged that we were soul-mates, that ours was the 'ever-after' type of love. If this love couldn't keep us together what hope and advice about love could we offer our children into their futures?
I love that old Beatles song, "When I'm sixty-four..." because it says it all. Robin and I are looking forward to the next twenty-nine years of marriage and beyond, but we know that it isn't going to be easy. We're definitely up to the challenge, and what's more we know our incredibly tolerant children will be helping us achieve our goal!
2015 update: Our children are now all married and two of them have children of their own: we're grandparents! We've created separate accommodation on our property for our children to come and stay and enjoy life with us whenever they want and we regularly spend time visiting them. Our life is still very much family oriented. We're welcome and encouraged to support the grandchildren's education in a hands-on way and our input and experience is valued. And we both feel we still have much to learn about being parents and recognise that how we are interacting with our grandchildren is very much how we wished we had with our children three decades ago - we are much wiser, calmer, patient parents and find it is easier to tune into the children's needs and desires.
It took a while for us to find our feet after being so completely immersed in our children's lives. Our focus was very much on helping them meet their needs and it was difficult to untangle and recognise our needs from theirs. Having their own children has, I think, brought a new dimension to our children's sense of independence and responsibility and we are definitely responding to that. Our help is appreciated but not needed. It is with great satisfaction that I acknowledge that what I sought all those years ago when I first drafted my home education philosophy and goals has been achieved. We are friends with our children, they are our best friends and we have a special and valued place in their lives.Robin and I are still best friends, as much in love now as we were at 17 years of age. Our love has matured into a wonderful companionship. We enjoy each other's company and dream about the things we will do together tomorrow and into the future. We argue less but when we do it's usually because I'm unwell and I remind myself that I need to put more attention into better looking after myself. We still have some way to go before we're 64 and we're still looking forward to it.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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