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Homeschooled Daughter Is Unhappy
Q: I have four children ages 13, 5, 3, and a 1-year-old. The oldest is the only girl who is ,overall,very helpful with taking care of her brothers. She is being home-schooled right now and does very well on her own. However, she does not enjoy it. I felt homeschooling was necessary because public school became a highly social outlet for her rather than an academic one. The past ten years have been rough for her. First, having a new dad, new home, and new siblings have been difficult. Many times she feels as though she is neglected and does not like her home life. She has many activities, from sports to hanging out with friends yet, she feels like she does nothing except schoolwork and chores. Am I missing something? I found a letter she wrote saying, "It sucks here." I feel I really do a lot for her, yet, she is not satisfied. When she is upset about having to do a chore or because one of her siblings has the go ahead, she will make an issue out of it. Overall, I am tired of the constant arguments, disagreements, and disciplining. What am I to do?
A: I can only assume by your letter that you are her stepfather. What I don't know is for how long. You make reference to her having it rough for the last ten years. I don't know if that's when you became her stepdad or whether you came into her life recently and pulled her out of public school to home-school her. There is also no mention of her mother in this discussion. These are rather crucial facts that affect my advice.
Despite the aforementioned questions, I can offer you some advice regardless of your answers. First, she is a "new" teenager who is acting very appropriately, i.e. wanting to make her own decisions that affect her life, resenting being the one who perhaps has been placed all too often in the caretaker role of her brothers, seeing you as controlling all social aspects of her life,etc..
School IS and should be a highly social outlet for kids. An important life long learning that comes from being in school is how to be a responsible, socially agreeable, cooperative member of a community outside your family of origin. This is an extraordinarily needy time for her socially; there is much she is missing out on. It appears that home-schooling was chosen for her as a "punishment" for her being "too social". I believe she was never given a chance to prove that, over time, she could adjust to the social life of school and balance that with her "job", being a responsible academic student.
I have nothing against home-schooling. I believe, however, that in your daughter's case, home-schooling was chosen as your way of keeping her away from social "temptations". If you can surrender up your fear-based reasoning for a moment, could you entertain the notion of seeing a family counselor with her. The family counselor could hear both of your concerns and then offer up a blueprint for how all those concerns could be fairly addressed. I think you need to show your daughter that you will respect her needs and opinions and that you are open to any plan that would both satisfy her needs and address your worries. I know I'm asking you for a big shift in thinking here but I think it's a path that can allow her to grow up with a stronger, more responsible sense of herself.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.