Meghan Jones, center, and her husband, Brett, are the parents of eight children. The couple discerned early in their marriage that Meghan would homeschool, and they have never regretted their decision. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald Staff
As a new school year begins, many parents will contemplate where to send their children to school. For two mothers in the Diocese of Superior, teaching them at home was the answer.
Loree Nauertz, a diocesan employee and former homeschooling mother, is a strong advocate for the benefits of educating children at home and believes in the importance of open communication among homeschooling parents and Catholic school educators and families.
Nauertz and her husband, Al, both degreed educators, homeschooled all of their six sons for part of their K-12 education. When their oldest – now married and a father himself – was starting school, the couple, who lives in Spooner, wasn’t very familiar with the local parish school.
“For me, it definitely was a calling,” she admitted. “We took it one year at a time, asking every year: Lord, do you want us to continue?” His answer varied for each of the boys who, as they got older, were also included in the decision-making process. Five of the six have attended St. Francis de Sales School in Spooner, some starting earlier than others, but the first few years of school were all taught at home. For high school, with only a public school option, one son returned to the homeschool model for his freshman year.
Affirming that parents have many reasons to choose homeschooling, a Superior mother of eight, Meghan Jones, said if they’re Catholic, “It’s not a direct criticism of the local Catholic offering.”
Jones and her husband knew early on that she would stay home with their children. Homeschooling felt like a natural progression of parenthood.
“I know this kid more than anyone else. I care about this child more than anyone else, other than the Lord. Why would I outsource their education?” she said, sharing their decision-making thought process.
Both Nauertz and Jones were clear that choosing homeschooling as an option for their children’s education stems from a deeper conviction and understanding. It goes beyond academic education. It is rooted in their vocation as parents and the responsibility and privilege of being their children’s primary educators.
“I want my children to have an abundant life,” Nauertz said in reference to Jesus’ words in the Gospel. For her and her husband, a life of abundance is integrated with the living of the Catholic faith. They felt, and still feel strongly, that guiding their children’s broader education includes ensuring that “relationship comes before rules,” or the practice of religion can lead to rebellion.
Jones said, “We want to raise saints. The choices that we make – are they helping to form future saints?” She feels many families, most without even really realizing or intending to, have become accustomed to outsourcing certain aspects of parenting. She understands many families do need both parents working and believes women have much to offer outside their families, but affirmed, “Time is the biggest gift you can give your kids.”
The women talked about the efforts many parents put into staying in communication with their children’s school and teachers, and staying informed about educational issues, and that it’s exhausting keeping up with all the aspects of children’s education and extracurricular activities.
“Your family is actually enough,” Jones stated. She referenced a talk given by pediatrician and author Dr. Meg Meeker, who encouraged parents to “Get off the crazy train!”
“As Catholics,” Jones continued, “we can try to have our feet in both worlds – earth and heaven – and, we don’t have to. Give yourself permission to opt out of certain things.” She believes more families would be empowered and experience a sense of freedom by saying no to the flurry of organized sports and clubs and other opportunities for involvement outside of family life.
Jones and Nauertz discussed how all parents, by virtue of their vocation to marriage, are the primary educators of their children.
Every parent, but especially Catholic parents who have any sense of just how countercultural living as authentic and active Catholics, needs to take responsibility and discern how to live that out. They noted how they’re likely the last generation raising children that remembers what childhood was like without invasive entertainment culture.
Both women were educated in public schools but said how different things were in a society still predominantly influenced by Christian values.
Jones, who admits being a protective mother, doesn’t feel it is something she has to apologize for. “It’s not just our responsibility, but our right and duty to protect our kids.” That said, she added, “We can protect while we parent,” without living in a bubble. She was very clear that their choice for homeschooling their children, ranging from age 21 to 5, was not made out of fear.
“We’re not afraid of the world; we’re just aware of what’s out there and want to be the soft place to land as my kids are discovering things,” Jones asserted. “We want our kids to fly, but after we’ve given them deep roots.”
Nauertz spoke about the countless fruitful conversations she was able to have with her sons given the extra time during the years they schooled at home. She and her husband wanted the boys to choose the faith for themselves, and it can be hard to balance parental influence with the many others out there. The Jones family also has many age-appropriate discussions with their older children.
There are many things, including social media, that they simply keep off-limit until 18 years old. “You can struggle with boundaries, or you can just say no…” Saying no, she said, actually makes it easier on the relationships because there’s no back-and-forth as new platforms and mediums crop up. She sees her young adult children in some ways didn’t feel the pressure of missing out because they were homeschooled and comfortable in their family culture, but she also is grateful for the personal relationship skills they have developed without technology.
“We realize also what’s out in the world and we don’t want a situation where they’re all-of-a-sudden bombarded and aren’t prepared,” she added. Admitting it can be a hard balance, she said, “Our kids are able to be aware of the culture without being corrupted by it.”
Nauertz talks with her sons about how the time they spend on devices might not necessarily be “a bad thing, but what could you be doing instead? As parents, we need to give ourselves permission to limit the amount of information and media we consume.”
Jones echoed the sentiment, saying, “We give trust where it hasn’t necessarily been earned. We put too much faith in the mass media. As parents we need healthy habits, boundaries and discipline and to teach and model that.
“As parents, you have the right and the duty to decide what comes into your home. You can’t control the world, and you’re gonna go crazy if you try. You’re also gonna go crazy if you try to stay away from it completely, but you have absolute control of what enters your home. Parents don’t often take that right or even realize they have it.”
Nauertz iterated, “You’re doing your child a huge disservice if you’re not letting them know what is going out there,” but this formation can and should happen age-appropriately and on the parent’s terms.
For their families, choosing to homeschool – especially in the middle and high school years – allowed them a built in “greenhouse” where they were able to help cultivate their children’s rootedness, critical thinking skills and deeper understanding of why Catholics live the way we do. Both having young adult children, they couldn’t be prouder of the results.
For families who are considering, or at least curious about, homeschooling, both women advised, find other homeschooling parents and ask them questions, ask about their experiences. Know that each family has to discern and discover what the right path and best fit is for them.
“It really is a different process for every family,” Nauertz confirmed. Her office has resources and many public school districts do as well. They might not be homeschooling with a Catholic educational philosophy, but she has found that there are numerous solid Christian families who provide a lot of support, too. Pray to the Holy Spirit, she said, look and ask around and the right things will come your way.
In conclusion, no matter what education setting parents choose for their children, Jones and Nauertz repeated the need for mothers and fathers to be intentional about how they parent and conscientious of their role as the primary educators of their family.
“At the heart,” Nauertz said, “it is less about the specific school setting you choose for your child’s education and more about how you are taking intentional responsibility for your vocation as a parent.
Jones commented on the need to reclaim the value of parenthood in general, but specifically for motherhood. She believes many women don’t feel they have a choice; that two incomes are necessary for the quality of life they want to give their children. She doesn’t buy into the mentality that women can have it all – happy families and successful careers.
“You do have to make choices,” she said and encouraged, “Stop and assess your family’s situation,” see what options and opportunities you have to increase your involvement as a parent whether it be to homeschool or just to let go of a sport or activity and replace that time with good conversation and family time.”
“No one can do this alone,” Nauertz concluded. “You’ll know when you find your people; but you have to look for them. You have to pray to find them, and you have to try and be that support and stronghold for other families, too.”
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