What if You Just Can’t?

July 13, 2010

by Tammy Drennan

What if you just can’t take your children out of public school, even though you really want to? Maybe you can’t afford or manage an alternative. Or maybe you have a custody situation that prevents you from taking that step.

What can you do to still make sure that your children get the kind of education – intellectually, practically, emotionally, socially and spiritually or ethically – that you want for them?

Here are some ideas to help.

1. Take a look at the areas already mentioned:

Intellectual/academic
Practical/living skills
Emotional/psychological
Social/relationships
Spiritual/ethical

On a scale of 1-10, rate how satisfied you are with how your child is developing in each of these areas.

Now you’ll know what to focus on.

2. Take the areas you’re most concerned about and write down specifically what it is that is worrying you. Maybe you feel your child isn’t really mastering math or is missing out on the most important lessons of history. Or maybe your child’s friends concern you or you feel your child is not fully committed to honest relationships. It could be you realize your child can do the academics but lacks the common sense to function in daily living. Take time with this and analyze the situation as honestly and in as much detail as possible.

3. Now, take your areas of concern and start a list of every possible way you might work toward improvement. For the time being, don’t worry about how outrageous or impossible your ideas are – write them all down.

Let’s say you’re concerned about your child’s ability to make wise decisions about relationships. Your ideas might include:

– Have Johnny talk to Uncle Mack about how he and Aunt Jane planned their marriage and life together.

– Find a course on social decision-making (on-line, book, or at a local church).

– Plan activities at our home for Johnny and friends and invite guest speakers (Uncle Mack, pastor…) for part of the time.

– Seek out and foster relationships with families whose values I share. Have them over for a meal or social time.

You see where this is going. Not every idea will pan out for you, but the more you brainstorm the more likely you’ll be to come up with ideas that will work. That’s how our brains work – the more we exercise them the better they think.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas on your own, get together with a trusted relative or friend – someone who shares your values and wants the best for your child. Work on the list together.

4. Once you have your list of ideas, choose one thing you think you can manage to start with. You’ll need to experience some success in order to gain confidence, so begin with something that seems truly doable.

5. In this step, you’ll have to exercise your insight into your child’s level of maturity. You may or may not want to do this at the start. Just keep in mind that you should not underestimate your child; he or she may welcome this. Here it is: Sit down with your child and explain to him or her that if you had your way you would have him in private school (or whatever you would choose), but you simply can’t manage it right now because _________________. Tell him that you nevertheless want him to benefit in some ways as if he were in private school. Explain that he’ll be seeing some changes in the way you’re managing his preparation for life and that you would welcome him as a partner in this new venture.

You’ll have to decide how far to go with this conversation. Let me issue one warning here: Don’t make it sound as if you’re setting up a plan to fix what’s wrong with him/her. This is a positive thing, a pro-active step. Be excited about it and view your child as a true partner, even if he doesn’t immediately warm to the situation.

6. As you implement and fine-tune your plans (and all plans need modification and fine-tuning as they go along), keep your eye on the prize – a well-educated, well-adjusted, competent, happy child growing into an adult of the same characteristics.

Always view yourself as your child’s protector, ally and mentor and never as his therapist or boss. You want your child to become a better person because of his association with you. Examine your own actions and attitudes as you walk this journey; view them from your child’s vantage point.

At first this may all seem hard or overwhelming, but I promise you – it gets easier the longer and more consistently you do it. Be practical about it. Don’t obsess over it – just decide what you need to do, make adjustments (or even scrap some ideas) as the need arises and keep moving forward.

Let me share one final thought. My parents reared 11 children. They were of a generation when parents did not discuss with their children their plans for rearing them. They just made decisions and acted on them.

Many years after I had children of my own, I was surprised when my mother told me about conversations she and my father had had about their decision to move to the country to afford their children a better environment for growing up and about their decision to never send their children to public school again and about other child-rearing decisions they made. I was heartened to hear this, even though it was after-the-fact. Even as an adult it made me feel more important to my parents. I had honestly thought my parents pretty much winged it with us and acted on impulse and expediency more than on deliberation.

It’s important for our children to know we’re thinking hard about what we’re doing with them and our decisions regarding their lives. It’s important, too, for them to see evidence that we take our role as parents seriously.

This is, of course, the simple version of how to take action when you can’t completely remove your children from public school. Your brainstorming and hard work will fill in the many blanks.

My wish for you and your children is happiness and success now and always.