By Elizabeth Thomas
I’m not what I would call a typical homeschool mom — someone who got fed up with the public school system and made the choice to homeschool. Noooo, not me: I never wanted to homeschool my children!
My parents made the choice to homeschool me, along with my two older siblings, when I was just four years old. In 1985, nobody we knew homeschooled — it was unheard of! My sister (eight years older) and brother (five years older) understood what was going on a little better than I did. I remember my friends going to kindergarten and telling me what I missed and getting picked on at church for not going to school.
My Mom holding me, the youngest of three kids
As far back as I can remember, I felt I had to defend my education — convince people that I could read, write, and do math. I fell short a lot, and it didn’t help that we didn’t have a lot of money and my mom was the one working full-time. We probably seemed like a weird family. I had to play with kids younger than me, and even as an adult, I felt like I couldn’t relate with people my age.
My perception of the experience was different than my siblings. They seemed to have had a wonderful experience, while mine felt horrible. I thought I was missing out on everything: riding a bus, packing a lunch, having teachers, playing sports, and getting new clothes, shoes, haircuts, bookcovers, etc. Most of all, I was missing other kids my own age! Other adults would ask me about my “social life,” and I began to wonder if I had one. Homeschooling seemed like an isolation from the world to me, and I began to rebel against my father, mother and God.
I grew up going to church, my closest friends were Christians, and most of them went to Christian schools. My parents did what God asked them to do, but I was in my own little world, where I felt like the victim of “weird” parents. I thought that made me weird too, and I didn’t want to be different, I just wanted to be normal!
So at age 18, I met “the guy” and ran off — breaking my parents’ hearts, my friends’ hearts, and my own heart (later). My parents were against it and didn’t come to the wedding, and I believed they had “disowned” me. The guy I ran off with became abusive less than a month after we got married. I would try to leave but kept taking him back during the four years we were married. I saw everything my parents tried to protect me from: drugs, alcohol abuse, adultery, child abuse, homosexuality. I was living in low-income housing, on welfare, and had three babies — far from where God wanted me to be.
I didn’t have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. The only work experience I had was as a seamstress. I was no longer attending church, and my husband was not only extremely adulterous, he was very abusive in every way! I tried to leave several more times and had even filed protective orders against him. He followed me, and one time he convinced two other women to help him kidnap our eldest daughter — they held me down as he ripped her from my arms.
I finally got out. In October 2002, I loaded up the van with my three-year-old, two-year-old and six-month-old daughters, and I drove to a women’s shelter. I spent five months there before moving to be closer to my sister. In the end, I won full custody, and their father has no visitation rights.
I spent four years as a single mother working two to three jobs and going to school part time. Slowly, the puzzle pieces began to fit. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6) This is my verse. I did hear my parents teach me, but the seeds they planted had landed on hard ground. But now God was starting a work in me and softening my heart, and the seeds started to grow.
Newly married to Anthony Thomas
After four years as a single mother, I met Tony — a man who had hardly set foot into a church in his life. We fell in love. I had been taking the girls to church all along, and I knew the walk and the talk, but I hadn’t really changed my ways or pursued a personal relationship with God the way I longed to. I didn’t have a personal relationship with anyone other than myself and my needs.
Tony and I got married in 2007. Being a single mom for four years, being bitter with men, parents, the system, and God, I am amazed that anyone could fall in love with me — or I with him. I was lost, and God found me! I am that sheep the parable talks about, and my shepherd was watching over me all along.
Shortly after we got married, we made the choice to have a baby and I got pregnant. Three months in, I began to have complications. Doctors told me I was probably going to miscarry, and this went on for months. I was on total bed rest for six months. I went from working two to three jobs, going to school, and chasing three kids, to being stuck in a bed. My new husband went from being a free bachelor to watching and chasing after three kids, caring for a woman he couldn’t touch for fear of losing the baby, paying all the bills and holding down the household. I can honestly say that first year of marriage was love, 100-percent pure love.
Despite our lack of relationship with God, we were blessed with His love. Cadence (a fourth daughter) was born easily and healthy. I tried to go back to work after having her, and for the first time, I didn’t have to — which made it hard. Tony didn’t really like me working and that made it even worse. One day he said, “Please stay home.” That was all I needed to hear: I became a “housewife” from that day forward.
Then one day when he took the girls to school, he realized Faith (who had speech problems and, we would later find out, some dyslexia as well) was being put in the back of the classroom to “color.” The teacher had no control over her, and she was falling behind. She was “special,” so to the back of the class she went. She was in first grade at the time.
My four girls in 2010
Tony came home and told me I should take her out and homeschool… wait, WHAT?!?!? I marched right up to that school to talk to the principal. I was not ready to homeschool. But after talking to the principal, talking to my sister (who offered to help), and knowing that my husband wanted me to and my father wanted me to (“But wait, what about me?” I screamed on the inside), I gave in. I just took her out — only her.
But soon the other girls were begging to be homeschooled too. It was so strange how it all happened, and I still have moments where I think, is this right? Can I do this? But I know with God I can do anything, even homeschool four girls.
Tony was saved during that first year. He saw God and heard His voice before I did. My girls and I watched as Tony (nicknamed Tank — covered in tattoos and looking more likely to be found in a biker bar than a church) got baptized by his own free will. What an awesome gift that was to witness. God sent an unbeliever into my broken path to bring me back to the right one. Nothing about Tony’s life said he would someday be a homeschooling father of four daughters who believes in Jesus Christ! He brought me to my family, he helped rebuild our broken lives, and in the process, I rediscovered my Saviour, who I grew up knowing and had wandered so far away from.
We cannot protect our kids from the bad choices they make. We can only preach the Gospel, teach them what is right — teach them in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it. You are not just their protection, but you are the teacher God gave them! Lead by example, pray over them, and pray for their future husband or wife. And teach them!
My four girls posing for their photographer cousin Virginia
I can’t erase the pain I went through, or the pain I put my parents through. I had a dream when I was in the shelter — not one of the PTSD nightmares I had regularly had, but a different dream. In this dream, Jesus was being abused by several men, He was being called names, and I was standing there watching. He looked at me and said, “I understand. I took this pain so you don’t have to.” I realized I didn’t believe that I deserved a life without my ex-husband. I thought I deserved the abuse somehow. That was Satan’s idea, not God’s, for my life.
I strongly believe in homeschooling now. It is hard work, but God gave me four daughters, and someday I will answer to Him for these precious gifts He gave me. I don’t want to say, “I gave the responsibility away to people who reject Your existence eight hours a day.” All the knowledge in the world won’t lead you to salvation.
If I had to draw a map of how I got here, it would probably be a mess of scribbles, then a huge drop, followed by a lot of climbing uphill in zig-zag motions. The only thing I know now for sure is that teaching my kids is teaching me a lot. I don’t know if I will ever have to put my kids back into public school (I hope not) or if I will make big mistakes as a parent (I hope not), but I am thankful for the gift of today, and that today, I homeschool!
— Elizabeth Thomas is a blessed wife and mom of four girls — Stormie, Rachael, Faith and Cadence — who are all homeschooled. She was homeschooled all through her school years and has been homeschooling for three years. She lives in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.