I’m not deeply connected to the mom-blogging world, which explains how I didn’t know about Blythe Fike. But when I discovered her through her YouTube interview on Soul Pancake, I could see why so many people have raved about her witness.
Blythe and her wonderful family, which includes five kids under seven, were featured in the “Have a Little Faith” video series, a lighthearted look at different religious traditions. The interview covered many topics: why she converted to Catholicism in her twenties, what it’s like raising a large family, and her experiences with homeschooling.
The interview was so joyful, funny, and winsome, I couldn’t help think, “Wow, that’s a woman we want representing the faith!” Check out the video below:
(If you can’t see the video above, click here.)
After I discovered the video, I reached out to Blythe and asked if she’d be open to a more extensive interview on Catholic family life, especially homeschooling, something my wife and I are starting next year with our oldest son, Isaiah. Enjoy!
BRANDON: Let’s begin by talking about your conversion. You and your husband both entered the Catholic Church on Easter 2006. What drew you to Catholicism?
BLYTHE FIKE: My father had been a Baptist pastor and had converted to Catholicism when I was a teenager, so the idea of a conversion was always near to me as a young adult. I was in frequent conversation with my dad (who had become a Catholic speaker and apologist since leaving his ministry) and, after a number really good conversations about theology and Church history, I knew that Catholicism was original, historical Christianity.
But I was deeply involved in the community at my church and it was hard to consider leaving that. I went to Mass with my parents often and I always found it to be incredibly moving and beautiful. I began to learn about the saints and they drew me, too. I remember watching a documentary on the life of Padre Pio and just thinking to myself, “Why is the Catholic Church swarming with these incredible people?” I fell in love with the saints and I wanted a part of what they had, but I felt isolated and nervous about what my life would look like if I left my church community.
In retrospect, it sounds trite but I am thankful for the whole process. I was able to be confirmed alongside my husband and I am so grateful for that. My husband and I met at our Protestant Church, dated, and got married in just nine months. After we were married, we traveled to Europe together for our honeymoon. I remember standing with him in St Peter’s Basilica, staring up at the walls at the names of every pope since St. Peter, and looking down on St. Peter’s bones under the high altar. I think those moments were what finally brought me into total spiritual union with the Church (aside from receiving the Sacraments, of course). It was such a powerful experience of truth and homecoming. We both had read and studied Church history before this trip but standing in that place is where what I knew became what I knew, if that makes sense. I couldn’t wait to come home and be confirmed. And we were, on Easter Vigil, 2006!
BRANDON: One of the parts of your Soul Pancake interview I especially enjoyed was on homeschooling. Homeschooling has become increasingly more common, especially in Catholic circles. Why did your family choose to homeschool?
BLYTHE FIKE: We chose to homeschool for a number of reasons. We wanted the freedom to design a creative curriculum for our kids, taking into consideration their unique personalities, strengths, weaknesses and interests. We wanted them to really love learning. We wanted them to have the freedom to chase intellectual and creative dreams. I think that can also be accomplished in the traditional schooling structure, but it’s usually mixed with heavy time constraints and having to devote a lot of time to what you might not really need to know. I think that’s a hard balance to strike and I know a number of families that do it beautifully.
I feel really grateful that I am able to stay home and to teach them. I totally embrace the fact that it might not work for us forever but I hope it does. We get to do Science with our hands in the garden and we read under trees in the grass. I’m sure part of the appeal for me is how romantic that is. Who wouldn’t love to learn that way?
Not every day is lovely, but I am happy my kids are getting to experience learning this way. And I am grateful that I get to know them on this level. The more time I spend teaching them, the more I realize what I would be missing if I weren’t.
I also just wanted to focus on our family. I wanted to have our evenings free to be together. I wanted to be able to take a trip here and there and have the freedom to know one another, without the parameters that a traditional school can impose on the home.
The formation of our children’s character is so, so important, too. It’s important to all of us! I would like our children to be well-formed, spiritually, before we send them out into the fray. I know not everyone gets that opportunity and I certainly don’t think homeschooling is necessary for proper formation, but I hope that it will help us accomplish that in our family.
BRANDON: What are some of the most common myths about homeschooling and how would you respond?
BLYTHE FIKE: I’m sure the whole “your kids will end up weird” misconception is the most common. But that’s so silly. Weird kids are weird kids, no matter where they are. And I particularly like weird kids so I say that with total affection!
I actually think the homeschooled child has even more opportunities to experience culture and community and that’s another reason why I love it. Plus, I do think being in the home and being forced to interact with your family all day can really give children the opportunity for amazing lessons in socialization, responsibility, thoughtfulness, patience, fortitude, and more that they might not otherwise get in school. Those lessons are sometimes hard to seize without your momma in the room.
BRANDON: What does a sample homeschooling day look like for your family?
BLYTHE FIKE: There are, of course, ideal days and days that are total washes. And since I am only schooling a Kindergartener and a First Grader, this is probably going to seem pretty mellow. No matter how bad our day goes, I am sure it pales in comparison to the family schooling multiples grades and ages!
Anyway, an ideal day would start with Mass. I recently went to a homeschool conference and the one bit of advice that every speaker repeated was “Try, try, to get to Mass.” One of them said that when you make it to Mass, even if nothing else gets done, you know you’ve done the most important thing. I had spent so many days feeling like nothing got done, so this was really striking to me. After that, I resolved to give daily Mass another go and our days are always better for it. Depending on the ages of your kids, daily Mass can be a really intimidating concept. I remember a few months ago, any time I imagined a daily Mass all I could envision was me chasing people up and down the aisle with a newborn strapped to me. It seemed impossible! But we slowly got into a pretty good rhythm and it’s often doable (with many prayers to various Guardian Angels and a heavy dose of humility). So, if the day is going well, and we have started with Mass- we come home and finish up any chores we neglected in our rush out the door.
When I’ve made a big cup of coffee and the baby is settled, I sit down with one of the girls and focus totally on her. Everyday we rotate who gets to do school first and who gets to entertain the four and two year old, and then we switch. I started out the school year teaching everyone together but that usually ended up with bored four and two year olds sitting directly on top of whatever workbook we had open. We can accomplish a lot more one on one, so that’s how we do it for now.
I am usually finished with both girls by lunch, so the afternoon is free for them to play and explore or go to lessons. I have time to get to the laundry and the sinks and my blog and we usually spend some time in a book together (currently: The BFG by Roald Dahl).
BRANDON: What advice would you give parents who are considering homeschooling? What are some of your favorite books, blogs, websites, or resources?
BLYTHE FIKE: The main advice I would give is that it is not as scary as it seems! And that you can do it, and (I think) you will love it. And so will your kids! You’ve have been teaching them their whole lives which means you’re already a professional.
I’d also note that curriculum can be overwhelming. Find someone to connect with who is already homeschooling, and go get a glass of wine together (or email her!) and pick her brain. You will feel so much better about it!
There are so many incredible resources to inspire a maybe-homeschooling parent. I love Elizabeth Foss. Her blog and her book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, have been invaluable to me.
Charlotte Mason’s For the Children’s Sake is an important book that I would recommend to anyone even remotely considering homeschool.
I love Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist for thinking through logistics.
I also subscribe to a quarterly journal called Soul Gardening that I adore. It’s a little homegrown journal put together by a few Catholic moms and it’s packed with inspiration and soul-soothing goodness. Every issue includes great recipes and sweet little poems for children and tons more. With every read, I feel so reconnected to my bigger community of Catholic mothers and that is a vital resource for me. This is a hard job and it’s easy to feel like you are the only one doing it. But you’re not! I need those reminders as often as I can get them. (Soul Gardening is a free subscription so hunt them down, sign up, and maybe drop a little donation for their efforts.)
Be sure to check out Blythe’s website, TheFikeLife.com.