Having started a conversation her on my blog about the importance of being at home with ones little children (see Early Years Rant), I am now going to throw a another gauntlet down: this one has to do with teens at home.
One of the most delightful things about homeschooling ones children - or at least creating a homelife which does not have children shunted off away from the home and family for most of their lives - is getting to know one's teens. They really can be charming people! Sadly, just as so many people have no idea how wonderful it can be to be with young children, having only experienced the whining, screaming, over stimulated kind, similarly, many people only think of teens as surly, monosyllabic and somewhat scary people only interested in shopping or video games. But it doesn't have to be that way. Children - from birth until they leave home - have the capacity to be the most delightful and rewarding people one can be with.
Much of it comes down to how we parent and educate our children. Obviously, if a child has challenges (attachment disorder, autism, ADHD) he is going to be a fair bit more difficult - and oftentimes incredibly difficult - to be with. But the baseline of what children are like and what they need is so far from what is considered normal in our society that people often do everything they can to escape being with their children.
What often results then is the spectre of teens and parents who are completely estranged from one another. Millions of dollars of books are purchased every year by parents seeking to understand their teens and to learn how to communicate with them. This is no easy feat if the teen's upbringing has mainly taken place outside the home and in the company of other adults and groups of children. Why is it that parents - and so-called experts - don't think that the way we bring up children is the key to these problems? How on earth are parents and children who have spent very little time with one another over the course of that child's formative years to be expected to know how to communicate?
Homeschooling can be lonely, exhausting and incredibly intense. But one gets to know oneself and one's children in a way that cannot be underestimated. Children see all our bumps and warts - and thereby learn what it means to be human. They see us fall to pieces - and they see us pick ourselves up. They see how mistakes are made - and how one learns. They live in the warmth and love and turmoil of the family and learn to compromise, adapt, be patient, take turns, forgive and move on. No education system, no day care, no after school activities can compete with that.
And so when one has lived with a child every day all day (obviously all homeschooled children regulary spend time with friends and in group situations) one knows that person. One can communicate. One has learned over the years how to adapt to that child - and she has learned how to adapt to us. In the bosom of the family, a child learns how to be a human being. How ironic it is that people worry about socialization of homeschooled children!! Pity the poor children who are never home and who are constantly shunted from one place to another, from one group of people to another! They are the ones we should be concerned about.
Sharing our children's lives makes life so much easier when one has teens. The foundations have been laid and we know each other. And when we are comitted to being in the home with our children - at least most of the time - we can be there for our teens. Whether one works part time outside of the home or is a stay-at-home mom (working for income or not) to actually be in the home and ensoul it is so precious to teens. So few people think that teens want us or need us to be around.
In You Are Your Child's First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin quotes a friend of hers, a midwife, who cut back on her hours when her children became teen agers. She had been at home when they were little, then started to work more in the middle years. But then she found that once her children hit their teen years, they needed her more.
This spoke deeply to me when I first read it - not in terms of my own children who at the time were very little, but in terms of teens I had worked with and with my own experience as a latchkey kid. How hard it is to be in a cold empty house with no one there to make it a home. How hard it is for teens to come home from school to nobody. Is it any wonder that most crimes committed by teens happen after school, when no one is home yet to be with them? The computer, video and TV just are not substitutes for the warmth of a home ensouled by a loving parent. Even if the teen doesn't want to talk and only goes up to his room, he knows you are there and on some level feels that someone who loves him is near. Can anyone really tell me that this isn't vitally important to teens, so delicate in their sense of self and their relationships to other people?
My own son , when he went off to high school insisted that I be waiting for him, on the porch with a snack for when he returned from school. He would throw himself in a chair and, whilst wolfing down his snack, proceed to tell me and his younger brother a blow by blow account of everything that happened that day in school. He stayed in high school for two years and then came home for a year - while home, he would also regularly emerge from his room and give me an update on what he was thinking about.
His younger brother has been the same - he went to high school for six months before returning to homeschool. Every morning we check in with his work - some days we work together, other days he is more independent. But every afternoon we check in about his homework and plan to sit together while he does his. Sometimes I knit or read while he is reading, sometimes I work on the computer while he sits at my desk. He really likes the companionship (and my husband's ability to help him with his French) while he does his homework. Sometimes we just sit together in silence, each reading their own book.
My sons do not know that in some circles it is apparently considered uncool for teens to want to be with their mother or father and to share deeply with them. My elder son actually ended a friendship with another teen boy becase he couldn't handle how rude and disrespectful that boy was to his own mother.
So this is a plea to parents to not overlook the needs of teens when they are planning their lives. One might no longer be able to be at home all the time and one might not homeschool ones teen. But if there is any way to be at home in the afternoon and evening when a teen returns from school, then I encourage you to do so.