(This article was first published in Home School Digest magazine in 2011.)
Dropping the Baton — Homeschooling in Crisis
By Israel Wayne
For over 30 years now, I have watched the homeschooling movement develop and emerge. There have been many obstacles and much opposition to overcome. As a whole, homeschooling has continued to grow and succeed against all odds. It has been an amazing work of God.
In a relay race, each runner sprints as quickly as he can for his section of the relay. When he reaches his partner, who is to receive the handoff, he stretches out his arm with the baton extended, in every hope that the runner ahead will be able to make the transfer successfully. The next runner begins running forward, not looking back, with his arm behind him, waiting to feel the baton in his hand. As soon as the transfer is made, the second runner begins sprinting with all his might in the direction of the goal. Once the transfer has been made, the first runner’s job is done. He has done everything he can and should do. It is now the second runner’s turn to finish the race.
In many ways, this is a great analogy for what we as homeschoolers are hoping to accomplish with our children. We want our children to receive the baton of: Truth, our values and convictions, spiritual vitality, good study habits, self-control, Godly character, honor, good relationship skills, etc, etc.
There is so much that is represented by that baton. We run the parenting race for 18-20 years, and then it is time to pass on that baton. If there is a time when the baton will be dropped in a relay race, it is almost ALWAYS at the crucial juncture of handoff. Once the baton is in the runner’s hand, he rarely lets it go. But it is so common to see a team fail to handoff the baton, and when that happens the results are devastating.
In the Christian homeschooling community, I am observing an alarming percentage of families who are failing in this transfer of the baton. From my personal observations, in families I have met across the country, I would say that in the first wave of homeschooled students, about 75% of them embraced, in a significant way, the values, beliefs and overall lifestyles of their parents. Those who embraced their parents’ values typically did it in first-born fashion, and wholeheartedly embraced the vision of the previous generation. Those who rejected the values of their parents, also did so as typical first-borns, and often went 180 degrees in the opposite direction of their parents, in an attempt to flaunt their rejection of their upbringing. This would represent students who graduated from the 1990s through about 2005 or so.
The more recent homeschooled graduates, often the younger siblings of these same families are not doing nearly as well. I would estimate that there are probably 25-30% of these young adults who have rejected clearly the Christian faith and are living very sinful and hedonistic lifestyles. This article is not really about this rebel group. That would require a totally different article.
There is an additional 20-30%, however, who have finished their formal homeschooling years, and are almost completely unsure of where they fit into the grand scheme of things. They don’t approve of their parents approach to…almost everything, and they don’t want to be like their parents. They don’t know what they think about Christianity. Allow me to call this group, “The Drifters.”
While I am tremendously concerned about the 25% or so who outright rebel against everything their parents represent (The Rebels), I am more concerned about The Drifters. From many conversations I’ve had with this group, I don’t think they are necessarily all “bad kids.” I think many of them are really committed to authenticity and they hate hypocrisy with a passion. Most of them don’t want to throw God out the window, they just aren’t sure if the version of Christianity that they have been force-fed is valid. In some cases they are very committed to their faith, but they desire to express it in very different ways than their parents.
The Rebels don’t need a valid reason to reject their parents. They just want to do their own thing and experience the pleasures of the world. They are pretty straight-forward. The Drifters, on the other hand, have some valid complaints, and their concerns and reactions are more nuanced.
While there is much that I would say if I were writing directly to the Drifters, they are not my intended reader for this article, and so I’m focusing my thoughts to their parents.
Surprisingly, about 90% of all homeschooled graduates currently say that they would probably homeschool their own children, as long as their future spouse also wanted to, but most are not really committed to homeschooling as a conviction, it is just a strongly-held preference.
Interestingly, homeschooling may have been the one ideal that actually DID get transferred, at least a strong inclination in that direction. The Drifters like the fact that they weren’t pushed into an institutional mold, they could learn at their own pace, and they have observed the overall pathetic lack of academic ability demonstrated by their classmates at college. This inclines them to feel that homeschooling (which most of them equate almost entirely with academic training), basically worked for them and was one of the more normal or healthy aspects of their childhood. So, what they are rejecting is not really homeschooling, but rather…their parents.
In conversations with The Drifters, I think I can nail down most of their complaints against their parents as being generally in the categories of their parents being too legalistic, too controlling, too hypocritical and too eccentric or counter-cultural. While it is hard to know how legitimate some of the complaints are, and how much of this is just unwarranted whining on the part of ungrateful adult children, I would say that a great deal of the complaints are justified.
WHY TALK ABOUT THIS?
As a homeschooled graduate myself (and someone who meets thousands of homeschoolers across the nation each year), I have frequent opportunity to engage in extended conversations with many other graduates (and their parents) who are willing to open up to me and share their frustrations. Since I am neither a parent of an adult child, nor an adult child who is currently in the midst of these struggles, I feel that I am more objective than most of those who are in the crisis. I also realize that I am somewhat limited because of my objectivity. I think I have a great view of the situation, but I don’t claim to have all of the solutions.
My motivation in sharing this is to help Christian homeschooling parents to recognize potential struggles that other families are facing, and perhaps to think and plan ahead in an attempt to minimize or remove these tensions from their future experience. Many Drifters have resorted to venting their feelings against their parents through (in my view) non-productive formats such as public blogs and discussion boards. They feel that their views do not have a place at the table in the homeschooling world. Some of them have shared their frustration that virtually none of the nationally-known homeschooling speakers and leaders are willing to address this tension between homeschooling parents and their adult children.
My hope is that by getting some of these issues out on the table, we might, as a Christian community, better address these issues and seek a Godly resolution.
One problem that I have observed in a number of these families is that the parents have simply not had their marriage in order. In most cases, homeschooling is the primary (or sole) endeavor of the mother, and the husband is the bread-winner. The stay-at-home mother often puts her heart and soul into homeschooling her children (often driving them very hard to excel academically) and her identity is often tied up in her role of homeschooling her children. She is with her children every day and her older teenage or adult children often become her emotional support. It is very common for busy parents to allow their relationships with God to slip in the hectic chaos and routine of everyday life. It is also common for married couples to allow their relationship with each other to atrophy. The priority is the children and when the children grow up and begin to move away, these husbands and wives find that the glue that held their marriages together is gone.
In some cases, the Drifters have noticed that their parents don’t really have a good marriage themselves, but they are often very committed to ensuring that their children don’t date, court or betroth anyone who does not pass the careful scrutiny and inspection of the parents. The Drifters resent the hypocrisy of their parents having a marriage that isn’t working, but yet insisting that they need to control the relational decisions of their children.
For many of these parents, the standards they hold for future mates for their children are so high, and so strict, that for all practicality, no one will ever be good enough. At times, this causes young adults who hope to be married, or find someone to love, to despair that they can ever do so with their parents in the picture. Many have watched how the non-Spirit-led involvement of their parents in the courtships or betrothals of their older siblings have caused problems, and in some situations resulted in failed relationships that may have worked out otherwise. I’ve met quite a few Drifters who have started dating, or gotten engaged, outside of their parents’ will, because they simply had no hope that they could navigate the waters of such a process with their parents in the picture.
HONOR EQUALS OBEDIENCE
Many of the Drifters’ parents have adopted a view that is popular in some conservative homeschooling circles that in order for their adult children to demonstrate honor and respect toward them as parents, the adult children must obey their parents’ instruction. The situation is viewed as a spiritual authority issue. The problem is that there is no real release point whereby these young adults are able to take the baton and run with it themselves. In some cases, these families view the ideal as being that the adult children should live at home and that they only become independent from their parents when they get married.
One matter that complicates this approach is that many homeschoolers are delaying marriage (a trend that is very common in Western culture) and there is a unique dynamic of many, many twenty and thirty-year-olds who are still living at home, and therefore under the perceived authority of their parents (at least the parents perceive it this way). The difficulty is that these young people want the right to make their own choices in life, but they are not financially independent enough to move out and establish their own residence (and in some cases are strongly discouraged by their parents from doing so). The tension caused by the delay of this handoff phase often creates resentment on the part of the young adults towards their parents (and vise-versa).
If a young adult DOES somehow get married (with or without their parents’ blessing) the tension doesn’t always end there. Many parents still feel a need to exert their authority in the marriages of their children. I’ve seen extreme situations where adult children have had to file restraining orders on their Christian parents in order to keep them from controlling their lives. That is, of course, an anomaly, but over-reaching, over-zealous and intruding homeschooling parents are almost the norm, rather than the exception in these situations. Again, it goes back to their view that they are supposed to be in “Godly” authority (or at least influence) over their children, and they don’t handle it well when the young married couple embraces values or choices of which they do not approve.
As a side note to the married child conflict, I have observed that mothers, in particular, tend to cling to their daughters (especially the oldest) in a very emotionally co-dependent manner. Because so many of them have not nurtured their own marriage (and relationship with the Savior), when their daughters grow up and get married, the mother loses her right arm (emotionally and practically). Her daughter has become her confidant and support system. She has not prepared herself to truly let go of her child, and therefore she clings to her relationship with her daughter (or son in some cases) with an ungodly tenacity. It makes her son-in-law (or daughter-in-law) a competitor for the allegiance and affections of her child. This causes all kinds of tension, strife, resentment and in some cases results in unnecessary bitterness between the young couple and their parents.
NO APPEAL WHEN CONFLICT ARISES
For many, many of these families, church life has been either negative or non-existent. Oftentimes the parents (usually the fathers) have led their families away from Institutional Churches (for a plethora of reasons), and even if they are still in a traditional church, there is not much relationship with the elders or pastor. If a conflict arises in the family, between parents and adult children, there is, again for a number of reasons, no one to help these families to sort through the issues in a godly and Biblical manner. The Drifters often feel that they have no one to whom they can appeal, and so their only method of handling the disagreement or difference is by retreat.
Sometimes this disconnectedness from Biblical teaching and accountability leads the fathers (and mothers) of these families to embrace errant and strange doctrines. Some families have ended up embracing supposedly Biblically supported racism, law-keeping of all sorts, hyper-patriarchy (that is abusive in its expression), or any number of other bizarre views.
In some cases, the doctrinal (or lifestyle) views may even be more common (or even Biblically-supported), but still set the family apart in some distinct way.
Some of these families embrace personal standards on issues such as (for example), vegetarian diet, women wearing dresses or skirts only, head-coverings, keeping religious feasts, KJV-only, no television, very strict music standards, no dating, etc. My purpose is not to critique these individual choices (some of which I embrace personally), but rather to say that many of these young adults have been forced into adhering to these views, but they have not come to embrace them from their hearts. When they become adults and begin to question (or throw off) these views, their parents often come unhinged, believing their adult children are leaving the true, authentic Christian faith.
For example, one young man I spoke with told me that he began to question his parents’ adherence to the King James Version of the Bible as being the only Word of God. When he told his parents that he didn’t believe that anymore, they reacted in an extreme way and felt that he was abandoning the faith altogether. In many cases, the Drifters aren’t looking to leave God, but they don’t embrace what they consider to be their parents’ rather truncated and narrow view of God. Their parents are often unable to allow them to pursue a radically different version of Christianity (say Charismatic or Emergent rather than Fundamentalist or Reformed) and treat their adult children as unbelievers for not walking the line the parents have chosen.
Another situation was more practical in that a family had allowed their nineteen-year-old son to work a job out of state. He worked with a crew, most of whom were non-Christians. His parents forbid him to have conversations (that didn’t pertain to work) with his co-workers out of fear that they might corrupt him. They wouldn’t allow him to spend after work hours with them, or even ride in vehicles with them (which made his work situation extremely tenuous). When they found out that their son had convinced one of his co-workers to start attending church services with him, the parents felt threatened because the co-worker was older, and they were afraid that the son would be influenced, rather than the other way around. They finally insisted that the son needed to move back home to be under his parents’ authority. They felt he was getting too independent. He refused. They have written him off as being in rebellion and away from the Lord, even though he has since led his co-worker to Christ and is discipling him through weekly Bible studies.
Another example that comes to mind is a family who was a part of a Bible study with a few other homeschooling families. They had a falling out with the group over doctrinal differences and then withdrew from fellowship with those families. One of their sons, who was twenty-years-old, desired to continue attending the Bible study, as he had made many friends there, but was forbidden by his parents from attending. The only way for him to be able to attend the meetings would have been for him to “rebel” against his parents’ “authority,” and it would have created a huge relational rift in the family (probably resulting in the young man being required to move out of the house). If he DID leave home and disregard his parents’ instruction, he would have undoubtedly been represented to mutual friends as being in “rebellion” against his parents, and rejecting God-given authority.
Again, there is no objective arbiter in these situations. The parents dig in their heels and insist that they are unquestionably right in their interpretations of Scripture (or in some cases, their interpretations of virtually ANYTHING), and they leave their adult children no choice but to “rebel.” They often villianize the Drifters as being apostate, which is often highly unfair and accusatory.
THE 30,000 FOOT VIEW
In terms of the big picture perspective, I think it is important to remember that most of the first-generation homeschooling parents are also first-generation Christians. Most of them have taken extreme positions on issues as a reaction to their non-Christian, or liberal upbringing. They don’t want their children to make the same mistakes they made in terms of dating relationships, government schooling, worldly entertainment, immodesty, and addiction. So they have promoted a very counter-cultural lifestyle that has virtually removed any vestige of these influences from their homes.
Their motives are to do what is best for their children. They want them to grow up and embrace their view and values. They want to pass the baton effectively.
I don’t think that any parent stays awake at night plotting the best possible strategy to ensure that their children reject them and their values. I don’t think most parents can even conceive of that as a possibility when their children are young. Especially if they have been blessed with apparently complacent and compliant children, they can’t picture these children rejecting their values (or even worse, THEM!). There is no doubt that these parents are blind-sided, and severely pained, by the choices of their children. They simply never saw this coming. Their view was that their children would always want to live the lifestyle their parents have chosen for them.
MY TAKE ON THE SITUATION
I wrote an article a number of years ago for Home School Digest entitled, “Why Some Older Children Leave the Faith.” In that essay I outlined a number of mistakes that I have observed that homeschooling parents make and how to avoid those pitfalls. Obviously, legalism, hypocrisy, inconsistency, anger, worldliness, bad company, etc. are all recipes for disaster. Sometimes there is an observable cause for rejection and/or rebellion. But then again, sometimes there is no discernible reason why adult children choose not to follow in their parents’ footsteps. The parents and their friends are all scratching their heads, wondering what has gotten into this child.
I guess my thoughts are these:
RAISE ADULTS, NOT CHILDREN
The goal of parenting is to raise an adult, not a child. When my children reach the age of twenty (give or take a year or two), I hope that I will have successfully instilled into them everything they will need to be prepared for life. For better or worse, what I’ve taught them by that age is pretty much all I will be able to teach them (in a developmental sense).
If I have done everything in my ability to transfer my vision and values to my children, then I need to trust my own parenting. If I think my ideas about life are so great (that I have the best ideological seeds around), then I need to trust that what I have planted will (eventually) grow to fruition. Even more importantly than trusting my own parenting, I need to trust the Holy Spirit to continue to work in these young adults’ lives. I don’t want to cushion them from every bad decision. I don’t want to micro-manage their lives. I don’t want to be the Holy Spirit for them. I want them to learn to fly using their own wings. I want to pray for them, and be available to answer questions they ask, but I am expecting them to be adults, not dependent children. If I have raised them to be dependent children, then I have done myself (not to mention them) a grave disservice.
DON’T EXPECT THEM TO EMBRACE ALL OF YOUR VALUES
When my children are small, they must abide by my standards. I am their parent, and I am the boss. I tell them what to eat, what to wear, when to go to sleep, when to get up and what to believe. I am doing my best to bend the twig in what I perceive to be the best direction. All good parents and educators do this. We “indoctrinate” our children (hopefully into the right “doctrine”).
I have very conservative standards and rules for my home. My children don’t get a vote. However, I am well-aware then when my children approach adulthood, they need to learn how to reason and discern on their own. I don’t WANT them to adopt my values because they are my values. I want my children to do what they believe God requires of them in His word. I would rather see one of my children genuinely reject one of my closely cherished standards because they felt the Bible teaches them otherwise, than I would for them to embrace my view without having a clear reason why.
At the end of the day, my fellowship with my adult children is not rooted in our common standards (as much as I hope they may look similar). Our fellowship will be rooted in our common faith in our common Savior. As parents, we need to discern what hills we are willing to die on. For myself, I hope that my children will love God will all of their heart, mind, soul and strength, and love their neighbor as themselves. If they do this, I will consider myself to be a successful parent. If they choose (for some weird reason) not to live in the country, raise chickens and eat homemade, whole-wheat bread, then I will not disown them (even though I will lament that fact that they are really missing out on the good life! Just kidding!).
I don’t expect my children to think and live exactly like me. I expect them to think and live like Jesus. I am going to faithfully, and without apology, live out what I believe the Bible teaches. I fully expect my children to do the same, if that expression looks different than mine.
MAINTAINING PEACE IN THE HOME
Sometimes you reach an impasse with an adult child who has decided that they cannot abide with your standards for your household. They may have planted their feet, and will not comply with your need to govern your own household. Sometimes this can create tension, especially if you have younger children for whom you are still accountable. Perhaps the younger children are embracing the views of their older siblings, and are prematurely attempting to exert their independence. In those situations, it may be necessary to have a parting of ways between that adult child and the rest of your household. Hopefully this doesn’t need to be a bloody battle. Ideally, this can simply be a mutual understanding that you are no longer able to live together in a mutually compatible arrangement.
I don’t believe that this parting needs to be viewed as either inevitable at some arbitrary age, nor does it need to be viewed as a relational failure. It may simply be a necessary part of the baton passing process.
The parent can affirm the adult child’s right to make his or her own decisions (like having cable television for example), and the adult child should recognize his parents’ desire (and right) not to have it in their home. This can be worked out in a manner that is conducive to all parties. The adult child may just need to find his or her own place to live. Again, I don’t have easy solutions on all of these issues. I trust God to give you grace and wisdom if you reach such an impasse. I also hope that you have mutually respected
Christian friends or church leaders who can help to provide Godly wisdom and counsel for your family in these matters.
PASSING THE BATON
As I am running toward my child, trying to pass on my faith and values, I don’t want to let go of the baton too soon. I want to ensure that my child is in motion, arm extended, ready to receive it. I want to be certain that he has firmly grasped the handoff before I let go.
However, when I DO let go, I want to genuinely LET GO. I don’t want to run around the track, hanging on to the baton so that my child won’t drop it! I don’t want to run alongside her, yelling instructions about how to run the race. Instead, I want to catch my breath and cheer her on. If she starts to run off-track, I will send up a prayer and trust that all the training I’ve given her will pay off. I will trust that she will quickly regain her view of the finish line and renew her stride.
While I am currently my child’s coach, I look forward to the day when I will be his biggest fan. I want to make the most of my opportunities, and I truly hope my children will run well when it is their turn. If they falter or stumble, I don’t want to give up on them. I believe that God will be merciful to them, to teach them in spite of their imperfections and mistakes, just as He has been to me. I don’t care if his running style is different than mine, what is important is that we are on the same team (assuming this is the case) and that we will someday both receive the prize for having run well.
My hope and prayer for all Christian parents is that they will be successful in transferring what REALLY matters (a love for the Lord and others) and will be willing to let go the things that aren’t essential. May the Lord grant us grace to be gracious to one another, and successfully pass on the baton, not merely from one generation to the next, but from generation, to generation, to the next generation, and so on, for the glory of God.
 The statistics I share in this article are not from hard research, but are rather a combination of my best estimates from my personal observation and from informal polls that I have taken of various groups of homeschooled graduates with whom I have interacted over the past years.