An interview with homeschooling mom and author Heidi St. John
Every homeschooling mom knows what it’s like to be too busy. School planning, music lessons, co-op meetings, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping . . . the list goes on and on. How’s an overworked, under-rested mom also supposed to work on maintaining a good marriage?
In this interview, Home School Enrichment writer Kimberly Williams talks with Heidi St. John, author of the new book The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance.
Kimberly Williams: Heidi, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with the homeschooling community on the topic of strong marriages. Often, the subject seems to be overlooked and even ignored. But as we pull back the curtain of academics and look closely into the homes of homeschooling families, we see a prevalent truth: it is very difficult to have a successful homeschooling journey without a successful marriage. Sometimes, during the busy years of raising children, homeschooling, and running a household, our focus on a strong marriage is placed at the bottom of the bookshelf. As you talk with homeschool families, are you finding this to be a widespread problem?
Heidi St. John: You know, it really is a huge issue. We have traveled the country and spoken to thousands of homeschooling families over the past several years. Marriages are in trouble. Homeschooling doesn’t make any marriage immune to the tragedy of divorce. The issue needs to be addressed and brought out into the open.
Do you remember when people were just starting to acknowledge the rate of divorce within the church? I see the same thing beginning to happen within the homeschool community. I share a story in my book about my own family and point out that nothing (not even being a pastor) makes a person immune to the devastation of divorce. There is a real danger within the homeschool community to see homeschooling as the thing that makes us safe. But it doesn’t. Homeschooling is wonderful. But it’s not the answer. A growing, living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the answer.
We must not neglect our time in His Word each day. To do so is to open the door wide for the enemy to come in. He’s just looking for weaknesses within our marriages. My husband likes to say that Satan is like a voyeur, prowling around outside our homes, looking in our windows for any sign of separateness or weakness. That weakness might be seen in a wife who is neglecting the needs of her husband, even unintentionally, because she is so consumed with her role as a mother and homeschool mom. Or it could be in a father who is totally absorbed in his work to the detriment of his family. We must be on guard against these things.
Kimberly: I completely agree that we need to be on guard. First Corinthians 10:12 tells us, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” We are all susceptible to trials, troubles, and temptations in our homes. Would you concur that we are under an even stronger attack from the enemy due to the fact that we are Christians and that we educate our children at home?
Heidi: Absolutely. The public schools have been a stronghold for the enemy for years. But just like any movement of the Spirit, Christian homeschooling has really gotten the attention of the enemy. Here we have parents who are waking up to the importance of education and are choosing to bring their children home rather than keep them in a system that is godless, even anti-God, by design. An entire generation is at stake. And I believe it’s gotten the attention of the enemy. Deciding to homeschool your kids and train them up in the nurture of the Lord is a little like having a big red target painted on your back. In fact, we have seen more spiritual warfare within the homeschool movement in the past 10 years than we saw in nearly 20 years in the pastorate. It’s a battle. If Satan can take out the marriage, he has a much better shot at the children. And that’s what it’s about.
Knowing this helps us to stay on guard, aware of the presence of the enemy. That’s not to say we should be afraid! After all, God has not given us a spirit of fear. But we should be aware of any weaknesses in our marriages and homes, and we should keep our relationships strong and healthy, grounded in God’s Word.
Kimberly: Tell me about your faith in Christ. Does it shape your marriage in a specific way?
Heidi: Absolutely. My relationship with the Lord keeps me on my knees and coming back to Him for strength. God’s Word is our plumb line. It’s what helps us make sense of the ups and downs of this life—because we know we’re living for eternity. It’s God who has designed marriage and the family, after all. God has laid out such a clear plan for the family in His Word! I find strength in that. And it helps me to love my husband better. For example, when the world tells me marriage isn’t worth it, I know that’s a lie, because I know the truth. When we’re truly grounded in God’s Word, we’re not easily swayed from what we know is true.
Kimberly: We have addressed the fact that we have an enemy out there that wants to destroy our marriages. We also know that the world whispers harmful lies into our ears that tear down biblical marriage. What about the lie that children should be the focus in the home? I have noticed a trend, in this generation, of child-centered homes. It seems as though the children make the schedule, dictate the activities, determine meals, and plan the weekends. Mother often devotes all of her time and energy to the children. Is this healthy? Is it biblical?
Heidi: It’s easy to do though, isn’t it? Especially for homeschooling moms. We tend to focus like a laser beam on raising and educating our precious children. It can certainly become all-consuming. Oftentimes, the marriage takes a backseat to the things you’ve mentioned. Mom gives so much of herself to her children that at the end of the day, when her husband needs her, she is so depleted she doesn’t have anything left to offer him.
I’ve had moms tell me that they really believe these are the years to invest in their children—and that their husbands will have their undivided attention when the kids leave the home. This belief is not only unbiblical, it’s having disastrous consequences for the entire family. We need to be modeling healthy marriages for our kids! Otherwise, they will leave our homes and end up in troubled marriages of their own. I wrote a book to stress the importance of nurturing your marriage through the homeschool years. If we don’t, what will we have when the homeschool years are over?
Kimberly: In your book, The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance, you state, “You should not sacrifice your marriage on the altar of home education.” Explain this statement.
Heidi: I have yet to meet a mom who purposely neglects her marriage. Most of the time, marriages that suffer this way languish for years before the real damage is noticeable: distance between the husband and wife, lack of intimacy, even outright anger. When we place homeschooling or simply mothering as the priority in our homes, we are forgetting what God says is the priority relationship in the home. It is the marriage—not the children.
Marriages that thrive can usually be characterized by having three priorities in place: a growing relationship with God, a growing marriage, and then nurturing the children. Have you ever been on a commercial airline? If so, you are probably familiar with the flight attendant instructing you that in the event of an emergency, you should secure your mask first before assisting others. This translates easily into marriage. We are better mothers when our priorities are in place. Nurture the marriage first. Healthy homeschooling and parenting will follow. The sacrifice I’m talking about in the book is one that is unnecessary.
Kimberly: Are there any other destructive adversaries to marriage? What about simply being too busy?
Heidi: Well, we’re definitely busy, but while busyness can cause stress, the problem is not necessarily found in simply being busy. I think there is tremendous pressure on homeschooling families to at least look like they have it all together. We’ve created quite a reputation for ourselves academically—homeschooled kids are winning the national spelling and geography bees. People are watching. So the pressure to perform academically has a tendency to take priority over relationships in the home. Add to that the pressure felt by many families to follow dynamic personalities within the homeschool movement to have large families, homestead, be entrepreneurial, etc. That is having a detrimental effect as well. It’s easy to follow a formula given by man and forget that our lives are to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Following men should never replace following God for our own families. God may have called someone else to homestead, and another family to live in an apartment in the city.
Kimberly: You are correct when you state that homeschoolers have created quite a reputation for ourselves. There is a myth that homeschool families are to be perfect. We are Christians; therefore we should have all the answers. Dad should be an incredible spiritual leader and provider. Mother should wear the title of “supermom.” Her house must always be clean. Her meals should always be healthy and wholesome. She can never oversleep and always has time for Bible study. The children are held to high standards in their academics. They must never fight with one another. The home should always be peaceful and the marriage faultless. And we could go on. While this is certainly ideal, do you think it is realistic?
Heidi: Wow. This is a huge thing, isn’t it? When we fall into this kind of thinking, I call it being in the homeschool vortex. Inside the vortex, we’re subject to legalism, unrealistic expectations, and eventually, homeschool burnout. Honestly, I don’t even think this kind of thinking is “ideal,” because the sub-thinking is that we really can do it all. And of course, we can’t.
I remember as a new homeschool mom looking at what I thought was “perfection” in other homeschool moms and being discouraged by what I saw. I wasn’t discouraged by them; I was discouraged by trying to be someone God had not created me to be! For example, many of my friends are master gardeners. But not me. I can’t keep things alive that grow in the ground. And I don’t like trying. Once I stopped trying, everyone was happier! I found such contentment when I realized that God was more concerned that I listen to Him for directions and stop trying to be someone else. It goes back to that image of perfection. No one is perfect. We strive to be like Christ—but we’re all very different.
Kimberly: What keeps us from being real with ourselves and those around us?
Heidi: Fear. Fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear that we’re somehow going to mess up or not live up to someone else’s idea of how our family should look. Unfortunately, Christians in general and homeschoolers in particular can be very critical on issues that, in the end, won’t matter at all. Most of us really just want someone to come alongside us and encourage us in our role as wife and mother. I honestly think if we were more real about our struggles and honest about the hard parts of homeschooling, we would see less burnout among homeschool moms.
I once joked with a group of women at a conference about my kids sneaking Doritos for breakfast. Just that one comment opened up all kinds of dialogue about real-life homeschooling. It was freeing and refreshing—and encouraging! Not because we were endorsing eating junk food for breakfast, just acknowledging that sometimes, Doritos are on the menu. And it’s okay.
Kimberly: You are right. It is okay to be real about homeschooling our children, about our husbands, and even about romance within the marriage. What practical advice would you offer the busy homeschool mom who has a heart’s desire to nurture her marriage and is just not sure where to start?
Heidi: Take time. You may have to do some rescheduling. If so, make time. It’s your job to put your finger on the pulse of your marriage. Get together with your husband and assess where you are at. You may need to take a break from homeschooling for a few days to get your priorities back where they should be. If so, that’s okay. School can wait.
When I realized that I was in the homeschool vortex, I began to ask my husband tough questions about how he felt about our marriage. Sometimes his answers were not what I wanted to hear. We made little changes, like making sure that after a certain time of day, I was done homeschooling, and we took at least one night a week for just the two of us. We started taking drives again, and we began to be purposeful about being involved in what the other was doing. For me, that meant really engaging with my husband about things that he cared about—and for Jay, it meant putting real effort into learning about our day. One step at a time, we moved away from the vortex—beyond just “survival” to a place where we could grow together as a family. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it. Your marriage is worth it too.
Kimberly: Yes, a healthy marriage is absolutely worth the effort. But Heidi, we know that there are a lot of hurting families out there. There are couples whose marriages are on the edge of disaster. And they are questioning if it is really worth it all. There are hearts that are broken, even now as they read these words. As we conclude, can you speak to those who are struggling?
Heidi: I am familiar, painfully so, in fact, with the suffering that accompanies marriages that are in trouble. My own parents’ bitter divorce gave me a firsthand look into the power of the one-flesh relationship and the never-ending ramifications of divorce. Marriage is, by God’s design, meant to be a permanent bond. And when the bond is severed, pain is sure to follow. In an unhealthy marriage, it’s easy to focus on the struggle and forget the big picture. Often when we are in the middle of painful situations, we hear the enemy’s voice over the voice of God. We may feel like fixing it would be harder than just ending it.
But God is a God of redemption. His ways are not our ways. When we want to quit, Jesus says, “My mercies are new every morning.” When we feel like the burden we are carrying cannot be borne a moment longer, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus offers us hope. He says that as we yield our lives to Him, He will be faithful. But we must not give up! There is so much that hangs in the balance—more than we realize most of the time.
Another thing I would encourage you to do is to find someone, even a group of other moms, with whom you can be real. Then the challenge is to be transparent and vulnerable. Ask for prayer. Ask for help. We were created for relationship. Ask the Lord to bring you into relationship with others who follow Him and will encourage you.
Kimberly: Thank you so much for sharing your wise counsel with us. My prayer is that as we strive for strong marriages, those around us will be pointed to Christ and God will get honor and glory in and through each of our lives. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever” (2 Peter 3:18).
February 21, 2011
Kimberly Williamsis a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mother, author, and most importantly a disciple of Jesus Christ. Living in south Mississippi with her husband and three precious children, her career is her family. Kimberly enjoys reading, playing the piano, and writing poetry. She would love to hear from you on her blog at www.untilthedaydawn.wordpress.com
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of HomeSchoolEnrichment Magazine. To learn more, or to request a FREE sample copy, visitwww.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com