By Guest Author Cate Ritchey
I am Cate Ritchey. My husband, Craig and I are the blessed parents of five children: two daughters, a son, and two more daughters. As I reflect on our family life, my heart overflows with blessings I attribute to the grace of God as we faithfully obeyed him, my husband’s leadership and faithfulness, five gracious little hearts, and the overwhelming love of God.
Let me begin where I began. I was a successful career woman when I married Craig in the early 1990’s. I enjoyed my job as a corporate trainer and software tester for a business software firm. But my heart’s deepest desire was always to be a mother. Shortly after our first anniversary, we learned we would be parents. My employer was flexible with new mothers in the company, and my plan was to work part-time after the birth of our daughter. About one hour after giving birth, I knew that I would not be sticking to that plan, but my boss encouraged me to take the 12 weeks of unpaid family leave before resigning to be sure. I’m so thankful we did this because my husband and I were able to work on budgeting to be able to live without my salary, but more importantly, I was able to work through some self-esteem issues that arose after deciding to leave my career to be a full time, stay-at-home mom.
When our oldest daughter was nearing school age, I began to look around me for options for her education. Friends with kids a little older than mine had theirs in public and private schools, with varying pros and cons to report. Some had teachers to recommend and some gave teachers to avoid. There were slightly terrifying reports of antics on the school bus and playground politics. At church, and through Bible Study Fellowship, I knew of a few homeschooling families, and I was intrigued. How did homeschooling work? Did the kids like being homeschooled? They seemed happy … and they seemed to love learning. One thing I noticed about all the kids I knew who went to schools was that their love for school — and more importantly, their love of learning — seemed to wane. This bothered me. Also, I witnessed a “changing of the guard” where the parents‘ values and authority took a back seat to those of the schools. I began to hear the cry of my heart: Was I ready to turn over the bulk of my child’s waking hours to a school? Had we instilled all we wanted into this almost five-year-old little heart?
Sure, I could find a well-recommended school and a well-recommended teacher, but was that all there was to be concerned about? There were many reservations with homeschooling too: what about socialization? What about all the special events like proms, homecoming parades, playing on sports teams, back-to-school nights, parent/teacher conferences, field trips, and graduations? I was really looking forward to experiencing those from a parental perspective, but those desires seemed to pale in comparison to the calling of homeschooling that I was not able to ignore. For me, this experience was as close to wrestling with an angel of God as I’ve ever had. I heard the calling. I knew what was being birthed inside my heart, but I also knew myself. I’d never attempted anything so … magnificent. Could I even handle educating our children, and if I could, would I be able to do a good enough job? For how long? Twelve years? The thought of that was daunting!
When I tearfully revealed my conflicted heart to Craig, he was supportive and gracious, but there was a “lost” look in his eyes too. Could his wife do this? How would this affect him? How would our children turn out? What if we failed? If I were to ask him today, I think he would deny thinking these things … but I know what I saw in his eyes, and I want to share this with anyone who reads my story. My husband’s look of concern did not kill my tiny glimmer of confidence. I told him that I felt the same way as he was feeling, but I was also experiencing an anointing that I was unable to escape with any peace. I asked him to help me explore our options and allow our valid concerns to stay, but I needed him to be my leader as I attempted to obey God’s calling in spite of my FEAR. He did this with faith and humility, and I will forever be grateful.
I began to seek a multitude of counselors. I looked for women who were “Titus 2 types.” Could they give me a little bit of their time to pour into an aspiring homeschool mom? One woman could. She pointed me to June of the following Spring and the CHEC Homeschool Conference. She met me there at the Denver Merchandise Mart and showed me around the exhibit hall and the rooms where all kinds of informational sessions were held. While Colorado was considered a homeschool-friendly state, I would need to familiarize myself with the laws, with the plethora of homeschool styles and curricula … it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant from my perspective. My husband/principal attended this conference with me, and our first session was titled, “So You Think You Want to Homeschool.” A woman whose name I don’t remember said these words:
“My son may not know how to spell ‘character,’ but he will HAVE character.”
There it was. The reason we would take this journey. Our “Mission Statement.”
Suddenly, I felt I could face the wilderness that was homeschooling. I’m so glad I went the year before we began homeschooling, just to get a bird’s eye view before I had to choose curriculum and begin educating. The first year, I was pregnant with our fourth child, and feeling pretty sick. Our kindergarten had two students: our almost 6-year-old, and our almost 5-year-old daughters. Classes took place while our toddler son was napping, and I was often lying on the couch. My students sat on little chairs at the coffee table with their Abeka books, crayons, and pencils. I love the memories of these days: with my head right there at the same level as theirs, I could almost hear the wheels turning in their little minds! My advice is to have plenty of erasers on hand for this K5 year and perhaps a Dustbuster for the piles of eraser dust! When Dad would get home from work, the kids would be so excited to read their little booklets to him. I will never forget the time he looked up from their reading and mouthed the words, “You did this!” to me.
Our homeschool grew with our family, but our house did not. The coffee table was retired, then we moved to the dining room table and honestly, the whole dining room was drafted for the job. When all five kids were in school, we found a used modular office building and purchased it as our “schoolhouse” (we lived on a farm). In every season, God provided. We changed curriculum when it was beneficial to us. I have always been thankful that I could tailor the learning plan to each of my children’s needs and strengths. When asked what the hardest thing was about homeschooling, I would answer that teaching people to read is probably the most labor-intensive, but today’s high school math is above my pay grade. We found a wonderful woman who God gifted with math abilities to help with calculus and advanced chemistry.
One of the most valuable things I did was to take time to talk to moms and dads who were feeling called to homeschool. One thing I know for sure: the most successful homeschools are the ones where the dads believe in and encourage their wives and children. If they had unbelief, I would encourage them to ask God for help with their unbelief. God always rewarded me for the time I gave to these families. And you know what? All five of our children have character AND they can spell it too!
As far as socialization is concerned, we developed our definition of this term to be in line with Philippians 2:3 which says: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem each other better than themselves (KJV).
When people would ask me how I was “socializing” our children while homeschooling, I would kindly ask them what their definition of the word was. I got many answers, but I explained that introverted people were always introverts, intellectual people were always intellectuals, and athletes were always athletes, no matter where they went to school. I shared that I could tell my children were socialized when they could look an adult in their eyes, shake their hand and say, “It’s nice to meet you,” or when they saw someone returning their grocery cart and offered to take it for them. I think these conversations were always a blessing to curious people, rather than a judgment of me as a homeschooler.
When I am asked about homeschooling, it is usually about my third sentence when I recommend CHEC. I honestly don’t know how people do it without CHEC — or why anyone would want to. From the convention, to the Homeschool Day at the Capitol, to the regular and helpful communication I received from this organization, I know this group of caring people has my back, even though I’ve never personally met anyone employed there. But when they need our support, it’s easy to give to an organization that makes its members feel like family. When it came time for our children to graduate, the CHEC graduation was a powerfully inspiring ceremony for graduates, their families, and friends of homeschoolers. We got so many compliments on the graduation ceremonies from our guests. It is always a ministerial gift to the people who attend.
In summary, allowing God to lead our family through the journey of homeschooling was 100% worth it. There were tears, but there was more laughter. There were cheating incidents, but there was grace and repentance. There were productive days and days that seemed to take their own direction with surprising benefits. Was it perfect? No, but it was such an incredible journey. One morning, after taking our youngest daughter to Utah for college, I was feeling pretty lonely. I looked out my kitchen window and heard these words from somewhere deep inside: “You didn’t homeschool your kids. I did that. And you were faithful enough to let Me.”
“That’s true.” I said out loud.
CHEC is passionate about coming alongside homeschool families anywhere in their journey, equipping them with the tools they need to homeschool with confidence. If you’ve been inspired by the Ritchey’s story and want to see more families reached with the vision of homeschooling, would you consider giving to CHEC this year-end? CHEC is a nonprofit ministry made possible by generous donors like you who have a heart for encouraging families! Donate here today.