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Kids don’t come with an instruction manual, but good books like this one can help


Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 08/29/22

When I wish for an older homeschool mom friend, I turn to books written by previous generations of homeschooling mothers.

One of the hardest parts of homeschooling (and mothering!) is feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing. 

Mothering is itself hard enough. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, and at times it’s a real conundrum to know what’s best for them. 

Add homeschooling on top of that, and the situation is frequently confusing. I was not homeschooled myself, and none of my homeschooling friends have children older than mine, so it’s hard for me to see what the next step looks like. 

I joke that my friends and I are like “the blind leading the blind” as we try to figure out how to homeschool without older role models. Many times, I have wished I knew an older homeschool mom I could turn to for advice and encouragement. 

My solution has been to turn to books written by earlier generations of homeschool mothers. I’ve especially loved Real Learning Revisited by Elizabeth Foss, For the Children’s Sake by Susan Macaulay, and recently, a number of books by Sally Clarkson. 

If you’re not familiar with Clarkson, she is a Christian author and ministry leader who shares her abundant wisdom as a wife and homeschool mother to four children, now grown. I am so grateful to have found her work!

Clarkson blogs, hosts a podcast, manages Whole Heart Ministries — which she runs with her husband, Clay — shares hopeful messages to her 100,000-plus followers on Instagram and Facebook, and has written 20+ plus books. All of these are sources of encouragement and inspiration for mothers.

I’ve been a fan of Sally Clarkson ever since I read her book, Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him. She co-wrote Different with her son, Nathan, who has a number of clinical diagnoses. 

As a mother of an outside-the-box child myself, I felt seen and understood when I read Different in a way I’ve experienced with no other book. I love listening to Clarkson’s podcast while I’m doing chores around the house, and I always find it refreshing and joyful.

Her newest book, Help, I’m Drowning, is offered in a similar spirit, offering a lifeline of hope in seasons that are especially hard. It’s the kind of book of which you could read just a page or two at a time, and find renewed strength just from that brief read. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is her encouragement to let go of expectations and unrealistic standards, and instead cultivate joy and thankfulness even in the mania of “survival mode.” She writes,

I wish at a much earlier age I had learned to chill more, to dance more, to stop and smell the flowers. I wish I had not been such a people pleaser, trying to live up to the expectations of my extended family, my critics, or my peers. My family puzzle just did not fit into the pattern of others’ expectations, so trying to live up to those unrealistic standards was impossible. I wish I had accepted that at the very first, instead of fretting about things I could not change. But I did learn. Daily, my habit is to practice being thankful, to encourage all who come into my path, if possible, and to celebrate the moments of life by bringing beauty into them. 

As someone whose family also doesn’t fit the “expected pattern,” I am so glad to have the gift of hearing Clarkson’s perspective. I’m striving to follow her advice of letting go of the things I cannot change. 

When my outside-the-box child can’t handle participating in an activity that all my friends’ kids love, I’m slowly learning to accept that this is the way God made this little one, instead of feeling frustrated and disappointed. When this child has to be removed from a social situation, or given extra coping mechanisms, I’m working on taking a deep breath and thinking, “It’s more important to give my child what is needed than to care about what anyone else thinks about us.”

It’s hard to homeschool without mentors, but finding books like Clarkson’s helps so much. I’m grateful for her and all the mothers who have taken the time to write down their thoughts and experiences, so that newbie homeschool moms like me can reap the benefits.

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