I never intended to homeschool our kids. When we started, it wasn’t for religious reasons. Well, maybe a little. In our rural district, my kindergartner had an hourlong bus ride to school, which meant she was gone from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days a week. It was a good school, and she had a great teacher. But she was so tired when she got home that there was little room for the family discipleship I envisioned I would do.
We decided to try homeschooling—just her and just for a year. But as we prepped our second child for kindergarten, some red flags flew up around his health and learning needs, and we decided that it might be easier to homeschool both that school year. After that, the rhythm of homeschooling just fit with our family. My husband ’s job has seasons of intense hours as well as seasons of more time at home, and we were able to customize our family life around that fluctuation.
People often asked us if we would always homeschool. I’d say we were going “kid by kid, year by year.” Homeschooling felt like a big curve ball God threw our way. I didn’t dare presume I knew what God had for us next.
That’s not to say I came easily to a posture of trust and humility around schooling decisions. I went through my arrogant phase, my exasperated phase, and a phase where I hit my stride. But in education discussions with fellow parents and others in our community, I found that it was often Christians—sometimes even myself—who showed little grace, no matter which side they were defending. I was an arrogant public-school mom, turned an arrogant homeschool mom, turned a humbled let-the-Lord-lead mom. That final phase was hard won, and it’s one I hope to help other parents reach more quickly than I did.
I don’t regret the years I spent homeschooling my kids. I treasure them. But the inability to commit to homeschooling forever caused tension in some of our relationships. When I signed up to tutor in our local homeschool group, I was asked to sign a contract committing to homeschool all my children through high school graduation and declaring my belief that homeschooling was the best educational choice for all families. That seemed presumptuous for me to claim for myself or others. I always amended the contracts in the margins, adding phrases like “God willing.”
Now, 14 years later, our homeschooling journey has ended. Our reasons for stopping were multifaceted. Bit by bit, God prepared our hearts for a change. Our kids are getting older, and we talked to each of them about this shift. We made different choices for different children based on their different needs and wants. The oldest of our six kids is now a sophomore in college. Another is nearing adulthood and enrolled in online school. Two are in public school, and two more attend a private Christian school. Will they stay where they are this year until they graduate? God willing.
One of the things my experience has taught me is that homeschooling is a poor insurance policy for a child’s faith. I’ve witnessed many homeschooled kids who graduate wanting nothing to do with God. “It’s just too hard,” one of them said to me. “God wants me to be perfect all the time, and it’s not that I can’t try to please him anymore; it’s that I no longer care.”
I’ve seen spiritual burnout on the faces of teenagers whose parents want to use God’s law to make superchildren with superfaith but foster a Christless Christianity instead. God is the starting point, but functionally, we try to determine what our children will do and think. We transform Proverbs 22:6—“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it”—from prudent guidance into mechanistic guarantee.
We subconsciously start to believe that if we parent perfectly, we’ll have perfect children—and homeschooling offers a level of control that other education options can’t match. But this is a formula devoid of the doctrine of sin and redemption. At its root, it’s a sort of salvation through works. It’s devastating—and not only for the children who lose their faith.
I’ve been heartbroken sitting next to a friend who spent years of her life training up her children, only to see a child reject the faith she taught them. In her mind, she did everything right. She kept the standard high. She disciplined well. But the equation didn’t work.
Of course, all parents have their own equations. It’s not exclusive to homeschoolers. My pastor sent his kids to Christian elementary school for a good foundation, then switched to public middle and high schools to expose his children to the world while they could still each night bring doubts and questions to Mom and Dad. Some families find their kids do better in public school, where it’s easier to decipher who’s a Christian and who isn’t and where there may be more opportunities to put faith in action. Others start their kids in public school, then switch to Christian school after realizing their children are tenderhearted and need a more protective environment. Still others have kids with special needs that can’t be properly addressed by small Christian institutions.
Some equations work, and some do not. But the constant in educational success stories, in my observation, isn’t any one equation. It’s that God will be faithful to our children, and we can trust him no matter what comes.
Of course, even having educational choices—being able to decide which equation seems best—is a privilege, and privilege is never required for faith. Quite the opposite: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” Jesus taught. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:20, 24). And anyway, discipleship isn’t restricted to school hours.
Our ability to raise our children in the faith isn’t dependent on our location, our income, and other material advantages. Great saints have been raised in places where Christianity is illegal. Many deeply faithful Christians never spent a day in school. God is not bound by our educational choices.
Conversely, as a mother who has used all the most common schooling options in America today, I can say without hesitation: No matter what educational path you choose, sin will be there. Even homeschools have bullies. Children fight. Teachers are tired. Discipline is difficult. Even there, Christ is the only Savior, and no schooling choice you can make will let you skip grieving with your child over the brokenness of our world. No level or model of education can bypass our desperate need for a Savior, every hour, every day.
Homeschooling was a rewarding part of our family’s story. But had we not been able to homeschool, sin would still be real, and God would still be faithful.
I’m a Lutheran, and in our tradition’s doctrine of vocation, we don’t look for a one-size-fits-all plan for our lives. Knowing that we are saved on account of the work of Christ and Christ alone, we are free to love and serve our neighbors in many different ways. What that looks like will vary from person to person, family to family, and community to community. This is true of education too. In our vocation as parents, it’s reasonable to look at the education choices in front of us, at our children’s needs, at our own needs as parents, and then pick the best fit.
I’ve learned there are upsides and downsides in every type of education, and that’s okay. My faith isn’t in any educational equation. Equations fail. Nor is my faith in my ability to be the perfect mother. I am not my children’s savior. My faith is in Christ and Christ alone.
Gretchen Ronnevik is the author of Ragged: Spiritual Disciplines for the Spiritually Exhausted and co-host of the Freely Given podcast.