Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Homeschooling: A Warning about Indulgence

Maybe I’m just weird, but thoughts of the simple pioneer life pop into my head as I’m enjoying modern conveniences. Driving down the Interstate in my minivan with the A/C set to the desired temperature, I think of the un-air-conditioned buggies that bounced and jolted their riders along dirt trails. While whipping up dinner in half an hour (or less) using my oven, stovetop, and/or microwave, I think of the kettles, wood stoves, gardens, and the hours of work involved for our pioneer sisters to put food on the table. Lounging on the couch watching TV or listening to the stereo in the evening, I think of how my ancestors might have read for a bit or talked quietly by the light of a fire before going to bed.

Technology has made life so much easier. Sometimes I wonder if we have it too good. Life wasn’t about having fun back in the old days. Have we grown into an indulgent nation where happiness is more important than holiness? As homeschoolers, are we teaching our children that their happiness is our goal? Have we fallen into Satan’s snare by being indulgent homeschoolers?

It’s easy to become indulgent when we're together all the time. Think about it. If you are always in the company of your kids, you talk to them – a lot. It’s not just the schoolwork, it’s life. So you may start asking for their input – what do you want to study today, where would you like to go on a field trip, what would you like for lunch? If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with kids who believe they have a right to make decisions for themselves and others all the time.

How do you tell the difference between being indulgent and being gracious? It’s gracious to give your child a choice now and then. It’s indulgent if you give them full control and allow them lead you. It’s an easy trap to fall into when you are a busy homeschool mom who is tired and would just rather let anyone else make decisions so you don’t have to.

This topic has been on my mind for a long time. You know there are kids who have heaps of clothes and piles of toys, and these belongings seem to overwhelm them when it’s time to clean up. They always want more, though they can’t take care of what they already own! One summer I counted my son’s t-shirts. To my shame, there were more than 20! Nobody needs that many. However, it was painful to pick any out to give to charity. While not all the things my children own came from me, I’m part of the problem. My love language is gifts. I enjoy giving gifts to my children; it makes me happy to make them happy. However, I recognize that I’ve gone overboard with the clothes, the books, and the other things they want. I contribute to the clutter, which leads to stress, which leads to unhappiness! Too many possessions is one area of indulgence!

Another area of indulgence is pursuing fun activities while overlooking your own needs. Maybe you’re sick, maybe you’re exhausted from a rough week, or maybe you have a lot of work to do or other obligations, but you push it all aside because there is a fair or a party that your kids want to attend, and you hate to disappoint them. Are you guilty of pursuing fun at the expense of your health and sanity? I am. However, this summer I realized what message that sends – that their happiness has more value than my health. When I was sick on Independence Day, we stayed home rather than go to the festival and fireworks. It didn’t hurt my kids to stay home as much as I thought it might. They survived the disappointment.

The last area of indulgence for many homeschoolers involves choosing curricula and extracurricular activities. Some parents flit from program to program, trying to find a curriculum that makes children eager to study. Chances are that you will never find that magical set of books or videos, and you shouldn’t waste more time and money on a fruitless search. You are the teacher, and you need to make a decision. Furthermore, your attention shouldn’t be given over to studies and extracurricular activities all the time. It’s exciting to introduce your children to new sports and the world of fine arts, I’ll be the first to admit that, but you have to balance your love for all things educational with your love for your spouse if you have one, and your desire to follow God’s will. Families who are always on the go are families who are going to explode -- one way or another.

What is the harm of indulging your children? Let me ask another question: Will you be disappointed when they grow up and always put themselves first? If you teach them that they are the most important beings on the planet, if you indulge them as often as you possibly can, that’s likely to be the end result. Will their roommates, spouses, co-workers, and others be willing to indulge them? Not likely. Will they understand that God is more concerned with their holiness than their happiness? Not if you didn’t teach and model that lesson.

When our country was new, people traveled by horse and wagon to get to un-air-conditioned meeting places to hear the Word of God preached for hours – and they were glad for the opportunity to sit on those rough wooden benches and worship the Lord! Our modern conveniences give us more time, but if we devote that time to indulging our children’s happiness rather than cultivating their holiness, we’ve missed our calling. As it says in Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Holy homeschooling!

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