comparing your child

You Shouldn't Compare Your Homeschool to Anyone Else's

You shouldn't compare your homeschool to anyone else's -- your only homeschool competition is yourself!

Remember that old adage, comparison is the thief of joy?  We’ve all heard it. Heck, we may have even used that line on our own children at time or two.

Yet, have you ever thought to yourself in regards to homeschooling: Am I doing enough? Are my kids going to be okay? Have you ever heard an offhand comment by a schooled friend, or even another homeschooler, and thought to yourself: Oh my goodness, my child hasn’t learned that! I am not doing enough! I’m betting you have had those thoughts; I’ve been around the block enough to know that most homeschoolers feel like that at one time or another.

The why is obvious when we stop and think about it: we are so in the thick of it. We are so daily confronted, obviously and nakedly, by a struggling reader or a child who has yet to grasp simple algebra. And when the fear and self-doubt start to seep in, it’s easy to ask ourselves, and really mean it: Can I fix this? Am I up to this task?

And then, accompanying those nagging fears, are those Neighbor McPerfect types. Their children all play soccer, receive perfect grades, and every one of those little buggars takes part in academic summer enrichment activities; and no one at their house seems much worried about hitting certain benchmarks by a certain time because they all surpassed the benchmarks earlier than anyone else in their class. Their children are all college bound, not because its where they necessarily belong, but because it is the next rung on the ladder of how to do life. There is a neat, tidy bow wrapped so perfectly around their lives that it almost makes you want to weep with feelings of inadequacy.

Yes, ’tis true, comparison is the thief of joy.

Take a breath and pause for a minute. Why do you homeschool? Take some time— a lot of it if it’s needed— and remind yourself what you’re about.

Of course our homeschooled kids aren’t exact replicas of their schooled peers. Call me crazy, but isn’t that pretty much exactly why we do this? In all honestly, if we cared about following the traditional formula of doing life right, our kids wouldn’t have come home from a traditional school in the first place. No, they’d be in school. Where, I might add, our struggling reader would still be struggling to read, but instead of receiving one-on-one, positive attention in a place where it’s safe to fail, she would likely struggle to hide her perceived inadequacies from her peers.

That kid that just isn’t getting algebra?  They’d not be understanding it in school either, and unlike at school, at home you have the option to change the approach you’re using, or buy a different curriculum. You can even shut the algebra book for a bit knowing that when you come back to it, your child’s brain will likely be ready to make sense of what was confusing before.

So why do we compare ourselves (or, let’s be honest, our kids) to our (their) peers? Why do we let ourselves feel so very badly that the very outcomes we wanted (independent thinkers! individualized learning!) are the outcomes we get? 

The reality is we all maybe kind of want to parent that child that wins the national spelling bee. That child so very obviously excels at something, and it is so easy to defend homeschooling and demonstrate its efficacy. But the child who struggles to read in third grade? Has homeschooling failed her? On our worst days we maybe kind of believe that it might have.

What if though, instead of examining the minutia of our homeschooling successes and failures, we instead examined what we are all climbing toward? Schools don’t have a monopoly on getting it right. So what if your local public school requires memorization of multiplication factors in third grade? If your gaze is focused on your academic end goals, you might more clearly see that a love of math is more important long term to the child you see mathematical promise in than getting those times tables memorized at the assigned time. A focus that has its sites set on the academic finish line might more clearly see the value in a child forgetting to do her geometry lesson because she was so wrapped up with her charcoal pencils and her sketchbook. Why is it worse to learn basic geography solely through computer games while never picking up a geography text? Is the knowledge less real because it wasn’t absorbed through textbook and lecture? 

It’s not that the way schools do things is necessarily wrong. For many kids those ways work well, and we, like so many of you, do use a lot of traditional things in our homeschool. But my point is this: please don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in the mire. Every parent experiences self-doubt when it comes to their kids, even the ones who are doing it the traditional way. Second-guessing ourselves just means we care about the outcome; it doesn’t validate our doubts. 

If you simply must compare a child to someone, compare him against himself. Can he do more today than he could yesterday? Is she an inquisitive soul who last year knew more than you ever imagined a person could know about every dog breed on the planet, and yet continues to learn more in her free time? Can your struggling reader read more today than yesterday? When comparing by those metrics, which are the only ones that matter, there is no joy stealing from the comparison. In fact, I would wager that by those measurements, your child looks pretty darn good, just as they ought.

Comparison can be the thief of joy. . .  but only if you let it. I hope you won’t.


Mindful Homeschool: What Are You Afraid Of?

Love this post! A good reminder that we don't want to be driven by fear in our homeschool lives. #homeschool

Fear is a normal part of life; and can certainly be a part of homeschooling. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Are we out of the house too often? Are my children learning all they need to be learning? Is my teen going to be ready to move out and live on his own? You get the idea.

Most of us have these moments of uncertainty and fear. Right? They’re especially common when you first step onto the homeschooling path, but, to be honest, mine still pop up from time to time, even though I’ve been at this for 18 years. While I’m confident in our decision to homeschool, and love the life we’ve created around our homeschooling journey, I still have to be mindful and notice when fear starts creeping in.

The funny thing about these homeschooling fears, is that most of them aren’t based on the “truth of what is” in this moment, but instead are worries about the future – things that haven’t happened yet; things that might never happen. So why do we put energy towards that?

Now, when I talk about fears here, I don’t mean the very real fears that come from living in a crazy, sometimes dangerous world. I’m talking about fears and anxiety directly related to the homeschooling path. These fears, I believe, come from a space of “not enough.” These fears come from comparison.

When we look at our children and ourselves where we are in each moment, with clear eyes, and open heart, we can accept where we are without fear. But when we start comparing our homeschooling, and our kids, with others—either schooled-kids or other homeschoolers or even to ourselves when we were their age—we open ourselves up to fear.

During my own moments of deep anxiety, I’ve found myself awake at 3 in the morning, heart pounding, mind racing, not really worried about where my boys are right now, but worried about where they’ll be in the future. What if my little one never learns to read? (His brother was reading by this age.) What if he hates learning new things and he goes through life barely able to have an intelligent conversation? What if my teen never becomes a good driver or never wants to cook for himself? What if he never learns to balance his checkbook and pay bills? (When I was his age I was already working and had a car payment, and made most of my own meals.)

I know, in my rational mind, that these particular fears are self-created, and stem from my own insecurities about my role as homeschooling mom, and my own expectations around who I want my children to be. They are based on what-ifs, not what-is. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognizing this and learning how to move past the anxiety. I’ve even started to figure out how to use my worries and fears for good, instead of letting them keep me awake at night.

What I’ve come to realize is that, in certain situations, fear can be useful. It tells us to run or fight when danger is near. It can prompt us to stop what we’re doing and try something new. Unfortunately, most of the time our fears just keep us stuck. Fear keeps us in our head and out of the present moment. And it can be damaging to our relationships with our children, who most definitely pick up on our fears and anxiety, even if we never talk about it with them. In fact, research has shown that parents with high levels of anxiety tend to have children with high levels of fear and anxiety. And none of us want that.

So what can we do, and teach our children to do, to let go of these fears when they arise? Here is what works for me:

  1. Bring focus to the fear. Don’t fight it or try to distract yourself from it. Instead, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and really look at it.
  2. Trace the fear back to its source. What is the fear really about? Do you really believe your child will not be reading when he’s an adult? Are you truly worried that you’ve made the wrong choice? Or is it something else? Where does the fear originate?
  3. Look at it without attachment. Once you stop and examine the fear, and trace it to its source, try to sit with it without attachment. Say to yourself, “I am feeling fear,” not “I am afraid.” Notice the feeling in your body. But don’t judge the feeling or identify with it. See it as a temporary state.
  4. Turn to the breath. Following the breath can calm the nervous system. First, notice the breath flowing in, and notice the breath flowing out. If you’d like to take it further, you can do a four-count breath: breath in, deeply, for a count of four; hold the breath in for a count of four; exhale, deeply, for a count of four; and hold the breath out for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
  5. Write it out. Once you have examined the fear and calmed your mind, you may find it useful to create a list of possible actions, scenarios, and outcomes, related to your fear. For example, if you’re worried that your teen will never learn to drive well, make a list of ways he can get more practice. What can he do on his own? And what are ways you can help? And then make a list of options related to the idea that he may never be a good driver or even want to drive. Uber. Taxis. Public transportation. Walking. Biking. These are all viable options that can be included. Whatever your parenting or homeschooling fear is at the moment, coming up with an action plan and also seeing alternate outcomes to your expectations can be tremendously helpful.
  6. Finally, focus on the great things about your homeschooling and your children. What are the things you are doing right? What are the things your children love? Find the joy in your relationships. Find the joy in your homeschooling. This could make a wonderful list too. Maybe you can add to it every day to help keep the fears at bay.

A teacher once told me that the opposite of fear is love. I like to think of it as joy. While fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, limiting our views of the world, joy opens us up to new possibilities. Joy helps us see the awesomeness in our every day activities and relationships. It creates flow in our lives and homes.

Becoming fearless doesn’t mean never being afraid. It just means being able to move beyond our fears into a space of openness. It means showing our children that it’s ok to risk, and fail, and try again. That it’s OK to change course. Learning to navigate our own fears and anxieties in our homeschooling, and in our lives, helps us build connections with our children and the world around us. And that’s why we homeschool, isn’t it?

So what are you afraid of? And how do you work through those fears?


"Homeschooling Must Be Really Hard."

Love this! All the things that run through your head when someone says "Homeschooling must be so hard" or "I could never homeschool my kids." #homeschool

Today we spent an incredibly satisfying hour sitting beside our brand new wildlife pond, watching dragonflies lay their eggs in it. A few weeks have passed since we dug this pond. It appears that wildlife has discovered it now, and it’s teaming with little squiggly things. To anyone who claims that children have a short attention span, I wish they could have seen the attention my children gave these dragonflies today. Magic.

Those of us who home educate (homeschool) our children are used to hearing inquisitive and somewhat incredulous comments like, “But are you a teacher?” And, “How do your children socialize?” Or this beauty: “Is that even legal?!” People have all sorts of things to say about home education, especially where I live, because it’s fairly unusual and a lot of people have never even heard of it.

Sometimes people say, “Wow. That must be really hard.” I don’t think they necessarily mean that teaching primary level skills is a challenge. What I think they might mean is that being around your children all day, and carrying the weight of responsibility for their education, must be hard. They usually follow up their comments with something along the lines of, “I could never do that.”

It’s awfully nice of them to try to commiserate with me, but I think the thing that’s missing here is that, believe it or not, I am actually choosing to home educate my children. And most of the time I love being around them. But whenever I hear people say, “Wow, that must be hard,” I think to myself, yeah, it’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

Then I find myself thinking all sorts of negative thoughts about home education. And I wonder where my joy has gone.

It’s been a few weeks since anyone has told me how hard my life must be and I’ve noticed that my life is not actually the vale of tears everyone thinks it is. I have a renewed sense of clarity and I wonder how I got talked into the idea that home education is a penance for martyrs. I remember that there are some glittering moments in every day when I think, “This is why we do this.” Today’s dragonfly magic was one such moment.

Of course there are other times when I so desperately want to be alone, I can feel it beneath my skin. I have a list of interesting ideas and projects I want to sink my teeth into, yet round every corner I meet a new needy person who wants me to do something. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. English, maths and spelling. Build a Hot Wheels track with me, edit a film with me, help me feed my caterpillars. Predictably, I sit down at my computer or unfurl my yoga mat, and it’s as though I’ve rung the dinner bell and everyone comes running.

This is what they’re referring to when they say it must be hard. What I’ve found is that the more I focus on the hard the less I focus on the magic. When I fill my mind with what I don’t like about it, I forget about the gratitude I feel that I am fortunate enough to be able to do this for my family. Being held in awe or pity, or commiserated with means I am a martyr, or worse, a victim. I am neither.  Sure, home educating my children can be hard, but it is a joyful kind of hard, like a diamond in all its surprising, sparkling brilliance.


Making Peace with Homeschool Messes

Sometimes, the perfect life looks a little messier than you might have expected. Shelli explores the surprising beauty of a messy house.

There are four baskets of unfolded laundry at the foot of your bed. The afternoon light streaming through the window is shining a spotlight on dusty floors. It’s almost time for dinner, and you haven’t even thought about it yet.

Other mothers are so much better at all this stuff. They plan meals, keep their houses clean, play with their children and watch prime time T.V. while snuggling with their husbands after the children go to bed. Maybe that is an unrealistic image, but other moms seem so much better at this.

You were never a neat freak by any means, but before the children came along, the house was at least tidy. Now the clutter, oh, the clutter that comes with children and—especially— homeschooling.

A new neighbor stops by with her son, and you look over your dining room before you answer the door. Only, it’s a not a dining room anymore. It’s been converted into the “school room,” and it is cluttered with all your homeschooling books, games, projects, and more. The mess is not pretty like the messes you see in parenting magazines. It is cardboard-dust, glue-stains, puzzle-boxes-dangerously-stacked, broken-crafts-crammed-onto-the- shelves messy,

You wish you didn’t always feel the need to apologize for the mess, but you can’t help it. You do it anyway, and you expect your neighbor to give the routine reply. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I completely understand.” (That’s what you always say.)

Instead, she stands there quietly, look- ing around, and she says slowly, “Do you know what this says to me?”

You shake your head. Messes can speak?

She says, “This tells me that you spend a lot of time doing activities with your children. I would like to do more of that.”

You feel something akin to light shining around your head. It’s more than a light bulb. It’s a new perspective. You would like to kiss your new neighbor, but you control yourself.

No mother is perfect, and every mother has her own talents. Some are good at cooking. Some are good at organizing. Others are good at being spontaneous. Some are good at creating structure. Some encourage messes because they know their kids are creating and using their imaginations.

Some mothers and fathers work full-time or part-time, and some of them do that while also homeschooling their children. Some spouses help out more than other spouses. Every household has its own way of splitting up the duties of making a living, keeping the house clean, and giving the children an education.

But listen to this: No matter how you slice it up, something has to give. You are either giving up time with the children, or you are giving up time to take care of yourself. Absolutely nobody can do it all.

Make a list of your priorities. What do you want to accomplish? What are the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy quality of life for yourself and family? Put those at the top. (You better put self-care up there. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of your family?) Now, what’s the least important stuff?

Think about this. What’s the least important thing that you can let go of? One of these things is surely keeping a clean house. If you are always worrying about the clutter in your house, then you have too much clutter in your brain. Let it go.

Make your goal more reasonable. Think “sanitary and livable” but not perfect. Dust bunnies, clutter, and glitter in the carpet can wait. You have more important things to do.

On the crazy days when you feel most overwhelmed, go back to your list of priorities. Have you maintained that top one? If yes, pat yourself on the back. When life gets the most harried, that’s what is most important.

 

This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.


Q&A: Dealing with Competitive Homeschool Parents

Great tips for dealing (politely) with homeschool moms who get competitive about how their kids are doing. #homeschool

One of the moms at our regular park day wants to turn every learning-related conversation into a competition where her kids are smarter and better than everyone else. How can I politely shut her down?  

If you started homeschooling to get away from competitive education, you may be out of luck. For every chill, laidback homeschooler who’s never looked at her child’s test scores, there’s a homeschooling mom who watches her — and your — child’s academic progress like a hawk. Your son loves Harry Potter? Her daughter just finished War and Peace. Your daughter is finishing up her math workbook? Her son found that particular curriculum way too easy. Your son loves his new art class? Her son is repainting the Sistine Chapel. Whatever you’re talking about, the conversation always seems to veer to how smart/talented/superior her child is.

Before you get grumpy, consider the fact that this mom may be facing criticism from her family or insecurity about her own abilities to be a successful homeschool parent. She may be aggressive because she feels like she has to convince other people that her child is doing well. While that knowledge won’t make her behavior any less irritating, it can help you deal with it politely, says Maralee McKee, an Orlando homeschool mom and author of the book Manners That Matter for Moms. For starters, resist getting drawn into specifics: The more details you give, the more ammunition she has for comparison. Be vague: “Oh, we’re always reading, but I don’t know what’s on the list off the top of my head,” or “We’re doing pretty well in math right now, but I’m afraid if I talk about it too much, I’ll jinx it.”

If she keeps pushing, it’s perfectly acceptable to let her know you’re not interested in the conversation: “All we’ve done is talk about school stuff! I’d love to know more about that farmers market you were talking to Susan about” or “Jordan’s reading list is under control, but I’m looking for something to read myself. Have you read any good books lately?” And if your polite diversions don’t have any effect, you’re well within your mannerly rights to excuse yourself and relocate your blanket to another part of the playground.

 

Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.