Nine kids, homeschooled from kindergarten all the way through high school. Seven completed bachelor’s degrees. Two have master’s degrees. One joined a convent.
How did my mom do it all, you ask? I’ve been wondering that too, so I interviewed her. I figured there must have been something to power her through all those years alongside the mighty red lipstick and gallons of black tea.
While she had graduated college with a degree in psychology, Linda Wolf says that didn’t influence her decision to homeschool or help much along the way. But when she taught in a Montessori preschool after college, she says she “learned that children could learn on their own somewhat, and learn a lot at a young age.”
Her goals for her children, she says, were that they “learn the faith – and hopefully practice it, still enjoy learning when it was done, and get along with each other.” As for college: “I wanted them to be prepared for college, if they wanted to go.”
Linda was determined that our Catholic faith wasn’t going to be, to us kids, just some quaint old practice that our parents insisted we do on Sunday. “Both [she and her husband] knew people who went to Catholic schools and who weren’t living the faith,” she sighs.
Linda’s solution was to integrate the faith into every corner of our home, prescribe four years of Kolbe Academy’s theology courses in high school, and drive us twenty miles to the parish with the best K-12 religious ed program – “that way you knew [Catholicism] wasn’t just something to do at home. You could be part of a community actually living it,” she told me.
Linda is a petite German woman with a will of soft iron. Her approach was very structured – we always began the day with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. We had certain amounts of work to complete by the end of the week.
I say “soft iron” because, as she admits, “unschooling was really my heart’s desire.” But with that approach, “it never ends…you’re teaching twenty-four-seven. I wanted to be done at three.” She argues that part of being a successful homeschooling parent is realizing your own limitations and capabilities.
As a parent and teacher, you must know yourself, Linda stresses. She rejected lesson plans that provided a script for the parent to follow – “I just couldn’t do that” – and others that blocked out certain hours of the day for certain subjects. “Eventually I found a philosophy that appealed to me. It must match your temperament,” she advises.
Her approach was eclectic. For elementary and middle school, she pulled together different curricula for different subjects – whatever she considered the best. She taught herself to teach: “I read everything I could get my hands on – back then, it was magazines and books from the library.” If you don’t know where to start, just cover the basics, Linda suggests – when your kids are adults, they can do their own thing. “I didn’t try to force my children to be Nobel physics winners.”
Success also requires being open to trying what’s uncomfortable. When Linda started homeschooling thirty years ago, there wasn’t a lot of curricula available, so, she says, “I started out with some Protestant stuff. There was some really good stuff.” To this day, she goes into raptures over curricula like Writing Road to Reading, Voyages in English, and Saxon math.
You don’t have to be that parent constantly driving her children from this practice to that lesson. “I didn’t want to be in three different places every day. I told myself early on that I couldn’t be a soccer mom. Eventually, I became a karate mom…that wasn’t quite as bad,” she says.
Ultimately, Linda doesn’t give me the perfect answer to my question about what powered her through. Perhaps it’s their belief that she and my dad’s primary duty to their children is to educate them. Perhaps it’s because Linda is just a compulsive educator. Whenever I visit home from college, she hands me several newspaper clippings and tells me to report back and discuss them with her after I’ve read them. And at one point in our phone interview, she interrupted herself mid-sentence to have a muffled conversation with my sister: “…book on that table…interesting historical perspective…you might give it a try.”
Do Linda’s children still enjoy learning? “Well, I’m a book lover – I see great value in [reading]. One or two of my children still read books,” she says. This is an underestimation – almost all of us still read for fun.
“As for getting along with each other…well…” She trails off uncertainly, but I can finish her answer. People often ask if we’re all close. How could we not be? I think. We sang together in the mornings, suffered through the same Latin lessons, and argued over the one swivel chair at the lesson table.
Some people might consider Linda successful because seven of her children have completed college degrees, and others might think so because all of her children still go to Mass and one of them is a religious sister.
“College is not for everyone…I still don’t believe that it’s necessary to have a good life,” Linda says. She won’t take credit for my sister’s vows, saying, “That was her decision, her good decision.”
I ask again: does she consider herself successful?
She gasps a little in exasperation. “Do I consider myself successful? It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings.”