The word around the digital water cooler lately is that homeschooling is a kind of vocation and that parents are either called to it or they are not. I know that line well. I hear it frequently from moms who tell me they absolutely cannot-no-way-never-ever homeschool. They'd love to. But they're not called to homeschooling.
I don't disagree simply to be contrary (although my teens seem to love that sport), but because it is important for Catholic parents to understand what vocation is and what it is not -- and to be clear about what it means to be called to something. I also deeply desire that all parents be encouraged to explore the sacred gift that they have right within their homes, their ecclessia domestica (church of the home). Contrary to the idea of homeschooling as vocation, I want to share the truth that successful homeschooling doesn't require any particular grace other than the existing sacramental graces of marriage and the graces of a life of faith, rooted in the sacraments... and the will to do it.
So... I suppose I'll be disagreeable in one way. But I'll balance it by saying that it's not a specific vocation to send your kids to an institutional school either.
What is your vocation?
The very first vocation that all Catholics are called to is HOLINESS. Sanctity. Radical discipleship in the very heart of Christ. After that, comes our specific vocation to either the religious life, priesthood, marriage, or the generous single life. Those paths are blessed by the graces of our sacramental "yes" and it is our obligation as married or consecrated people to pursue holiness (God's will) in the details of our lives.
If we become parents within the vocation of marriage, we are then obligated to raise and educate our children -- not primarily to calculus and music theory -- but in the ways of goodness and truth in the heart of Christ. It is not our vocation, but within our vocation that we find ourselves navigating the stumbling blocks of the world in order to do so.
Are you called to homeschool?
Well, what does it mean to be called? Because the term is so casually and frequently used among Christians, there is definitely some confusion. The word often simply used to describe a very strong feeling that something is a good thing to do. It may be of God or it may not be. We often use it in the following ways:
"I feel really called to be on the parish renewal planning committee this year."
"God is putting it on my heart to start wearing skirts more often."
"I feel called to spread the messages of Our Lady of Fatima."
"God is calling me to write a book."
Whether or not such statements are true, a concern is that we can allow our feelings to become the barometer that we use to gauge our own faithfulness. God calls us to holiness. Period. Each decision that we make must be subject to that particular discernment. Does it serve God first? Does it serve my primary vocation as a parent? Etc. Otherwise, we become confused. A strong inclination may be erroneously thought to be a command of God. A few examples of possible discernment errors (based on real events in my life or the lives of those I have met)...
"God is calling me to marry you." Nope.
"I feel that I am being called to join this lay apostolate." Nope.
"I am being called to support this Marian apparition even though it has been condemned." Nope.
"God is calling me to leave my wife and kids and live life as a single." Nope.
"I feel called to leave the Catholic Church and join a 'biblical' church." Nope.
So is it possible that someone can think they are not called to homeschool never-ever-not-a-chance... and be wrong? Yep.
I don't have a vocation to homeschool any more than you have a vocation to send your kids to be taught by Miss Betty. We share the same vocation and the same obligation as the primary educators of our children. The details after that are simply a matter for prayerful and prudential discernment. I am "called" to homeschool insofar as I am called to pursue holiness. Prayer, reason, intellect, observation... all combine to help us make the right decision for our kids.
Goals worth pursuing aren't always emotional satisfying -- and the burdens experienced during homeschooling can cause confusion if we are expecting grace to make things easy for us. It is not uncommon to interpret happy feelings as God's stamp of approval on our choices. That emotional confusion often leads parents (especially moms) to declare:
"I'm just not called to homeschool like you are. I'm not very patient or good at teaching. Now you... you are so good at it. You definitely have a calling that I do not have."
And really, just... Nope. The right thing is not usually the easy thing.
Homeschooling is one of the greatest blessings of my life. Even so, the rewards aren't always temporal. It is better than awesome (in the cultural sense of the word) because it is good, in the eternal sense. It allows for a little more movement into God's dream for the family. But, it is a practical mistake for homeschoolers to make it more romantic or other worldly than it is. And I'll be honest with you...
If you can hold a job and manage to get through a day without getting fired, lost, forgetting most of your appointments, hitting anyone, screaming, or throwing things, then you can homeschool. If you can read, follow directions, order things online, talk on the telephone, navigate the library, communicate with people, and research how-to's, then you can homeschool. But it's not just a job to home educate... it is intertwined permanently with your vocation to love your own.
I won't lie. Homeschooling is tough. Because parenting is tough. I am far better suited to other things (for example, I'd make a darn good crazy cat lady). Fortunately, I know that anything worth doing requires some struggle. And I know through the example of the saints (and Christ Himself), that God asks us to follow Him to uncomfortable and surprising places.
The biggest mistake that discerning parents make is to make their decision based on feeling. They assume that just because a thing is scary, overwhelming, unknown, and out of their comfort zone, that God must not want them there. At a very fundamental level of discernment, this is a mistake. You know what would have felt awesome this morning? Eating my breakfast in a quiet house with all of the kids being fed and taught by other people... somewhere else. But that is not the decision that my husband and I have discerned to be the best for my kids or, frankly, for me.
So, should you homeschool?
There are a lot of things that go into a decision like that and there is rarely a Divine lightening bolt which prescribes the nitty gritty details of the Christian life. I think you should because homeschooling is amazing and I want everyone to have an amazing life. But I humbly acknowledge that there is no magic pill for the perfect education of our children. Human nature and behavior are complex. What isn't complex is our vocation... We are called to be holy and to lead our children to Christ. Once we have made that top priority, each detail should be able to pass the test: Does it lead them closer to Jesus?
The biggest obstacle to success in my homeschool will always be me and my limitations and failures. But as Mother Teresa said, "Christ does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful." And as she exemplified so beautifully in her own life, that usually looks like a whole lot of grace and hard work. Welcome to your vocation... whether or not you homeschool.
"Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus."
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta