An article written for the Holy Family Newsletter:
Moving Forward in FaithIf you had told me on our wedding day that we would have 5 kids AND home educate them, I would have laughed. After all, I was a successful career woman who would have two kids that would go to daycare and private school! While both of us were Catholic, we were just slightly more Catholic than the cafeteria kind. We went to church most every Sunday mostly because we were involved in the choir. Faith was important but it didn't define us like it does now.
After two years of “infertility of unknown cause”, we conceived our first baby, a little boy. He was a miracle because we were told we would NEVER have a baby. We were humbled by the awesome gift God had bestowed upon us. After quitting my job in a New York minute and moving to a smaller home, we became a family. Our little boy was followed by our second “one-in-a-million” baby, a little girl. We were told not to expect more. Anxious to get back to my career, I actually went back to work, teaching night school at a local technical college, sure that we were done having children. God knows better. Three and a half years our second child, a beautiful little girl followed and I again ended my career. Two more little boys came along after her, totaling five beautiful kids in less than ten years. We look forward to meeting our three other beautiful children waiting in Heaven that were lost in miscarriage.
Just after our third child was born, I started saying the Rosary every day and saw many fruits from my prayers to the Blessed Mother. I especially needed guidance on raising these little souls He’d entrusted with me. Having no brothers, understanding my busy little boy was very difficult for me. The book Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson introduced me to the concept of home education. Thank goodness, Dr. Dobson also convinced me that boys are supposed to be rambunctious. My husband read the book as well, confirming the assertions about boys made in the book and agreed to home education for our children. It made sense to school our son at home where he could be a little boy. He also had some vision and motor processing issues that led us to believe he was better off with an education delivered by someone who knew and loved him. We didn’t want him labeled. With lots of hard work, those issues have mostly been resolved. Our older daughter also has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts as well as other less serious food allergies. She stopped breathing at 17 months of age when a friend gave her a cracker with peanut butter. She reacts even if she touches anything with peanut residue or even smells peanuts on someone’s breath. Clearly, she wasn’t a very good candidate for school, either!
I was still nervous about our decision. Given the advice to pray, I again went to the Blessed Mother asking her intercession. Before this time, I thought I didn’t know any home educators. I believe she led me to families that home educated their children. A former Catholic coworker introduced me to his wife who home educated their children and we became fast friends. She has been a source of support and wealth of information. Through the local Couple to Couple League, we met a wonderful couples that homeschool their children. One woman was the membership coordinator for a Catholic homeschool support group. She sent me a registration form for the group, we joined and we were hooked. Having more than fifty Catholic families that were home educating their children to tap for information, support and friendship has sustained us in our journey.
Finding materials that worked for our kids was the next challenge. A boxed curriculum didn’t seem to fit our family. Having some special needs to address, I wanted flexibility to adjust the levels as necessary. A friend introduced me to a syllabus that was easy to follow, adjustable and beautifully Catholic.In 2004, my husband and I attended our first Catholic Home Education conference while we only had three kids. It was life-changing for us. We had previously decided we were done having kids because of some challenges we faced with our other children. We came home called to be open to life, to expand our prayer time and to make our home more Catholic. Every subsequent conference has moved us forward in our faith life.
The topic of the 2006-2007 school year kick off speech for our homeschool support group was about raising leaders. Our priest expressed concern that the youth of today are not motivated and aren’t ready to be the leaders needed for the twenty-first century. He called upon home educators to raise leaders. At the end of that school year, Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing spoke at the Minnesota Catholic Home Educator’s Conference. He talked about a book called A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille. The topic of the book, leadership education, was just what we were seeking for this part of our children’s education. It’s not a curriculum, but a set of principles. This book outlined a model that resonated with both of us: use of the classics and strong self motivation which leads to strong leadership through inspiration. It all begins with the parents setting the example. The principle encourages the family to start with Central Classics: the family source of truth, which for us are the Bible and the Catechism. These are the classics on which our day is built. Then mentored education in classic literature, following the model used to educate our founding fathers supplements our regular subjects. I have spent the last year researching, reading and using this method with our Catholic curriculum. It's a lovely combination for us.
Along the way, I’ve been introduced to so many wonderful people. In our support group alone, I have personally gotten to know so many beautiful Catholic families. I see Mary in every mother. One wonderful mother of nine kids, told me that home educating her kids turned out to be just as important for her as it was for her kids. She swears God needed to change her and it was through homeschooling that He was doing it. I see Joseph in the fathers. Knowing they are the defender and supporters of the family, they go off to work every day. When they come home, they are leading their families while fighting the dragons of society, those things that tend to draw us away from Christ and the domestic church. While my husband has had less opportunity to spend time with dads of families that home educate, he believes they have had a significant impact on him as a father and he agrees that home educating has led our entire family further along in our faith. What is most inspiring to me is how, whether it be a blessing such as a new baby, or a tragedy such as a cancer diagnosis, the friends made in these support groups step up and fill in where our own extended families may not be able to support us by bringing us meals, taking our kids to activities or just visiting when we’re down.
The faith development that I was called to bring to my children through their curriculum, the inspiring examples I had witnessed of truly Catholic families living out their faith within our homeschool support group, the Minnesota Catholic Home Educators Conference and the Sacrament preparation program at our parish sent me a real wake up call. Despite the fact that I had attended Catholic grade school, I realized I knew very little about my faith. Home educating my children has led my entire family closer to Christ. When it really hit me how little we were living out our Catholic faith, I read everything Catholic I could. I joined a Familia group. Familia gave me a renewed love for JPII, a better understanding of my role in my vocation as a wife and gratitude for his teachings on the theology of the body. As a family, we became more involved in our homeschool support group. Both my husband and I prayed more, independently and as a family. My husband began going to Adoration, thanks to a friend from our homeschool support group who introduced the concept to him when my husband was looking for guidance about a career change. Going to adoration gives him strength and direction. Relevant Radio also plays a large part in our catechesis. Now, nightly prayer and rosary are part of our bedtime routine. I expect that as my younger children start school and my older children move forward, home education will continue to lead us all closer to Christ and his beautiful Blessed Mother.