It is so easy as parents to become preoccupied with comparisons. It starts when our children are little and we sit with other mothers in a play group and discuss milestones our children have or haven’t passed. It all seems so important at the time, but five years later, when you are chasing that six-year-old down the street, the fact he walked five months after every other baby you knew doesn’t seem to matter. I’m sure I’m not the only one who looks back on those early worries and wishes I could go back and just enjoy my child’s babyhood without them.
Yet, we adults are often a little slow because we continue to make the same mistake again, though in a different form. Instead of looking at and worrying about the physical milestones of babies, we look at our school age children and do it with academics. Have they learned to read yet? How far along in math are they? How well do they write? It only takes another mother making a passing comment about her child having memorized a poem to cause panic. I know; I’ve been there. A friend mentions something they’ve done and instead of being interested in her, I become completely self-focused. Has my child done that? Have we ever done that? This must be important or my friend wouldn’t spend time on it. What if my child doesn’t get into college because of what I have forgotten to cover?! Suddenly, I’m ignoring what I had planned out and instead we are doing a comprehensive unit on whatever subject my friend’s children were doing. Homeschooling parents do this with topics, curricula, and techniques. Or the reverse… someone makes a strong case for not using these things and we suddenly find ourselves worrying about doing too much.
Things don’t get much easier when businesses get involved. When I first began homeschooling, the conferences I went to had curriculum fairs, but they were not the huge, overwhelming things they are now. There were lots of used books, lots of homemade products, and a few of the major publishers who sold their wares to homeschoolers. The thing I notice now as I wander through the aisles is not only the amount for sale, but the marketing techniques as well. Has anyone else noticed that we homeschoolers seem to have become a fearful bunch? The marketers seem to have noticed, because most of their pitches involve a lot of playing into parents’ fears. Those same fears we first felt with our first child… that somehow our child won’t measure up. And all the while we worry that it will be our fault. If you don’t use this curriculum, your child will be missing out! You don’t want to ruin them for life do you? The trouble is, in one way or another, most publishers use this tactic, so in my mind, it ceases to have validity. They can’t all be right. There is some value in most everything; it is up to us to decide if it is valuable to us and what it is worth. There is no magic curriculum bullet that will create well-rounded, highly educated children with little work on the parents’ part and might even keep your house clean as well. With the amount of money I’ve spent on school stuff over the years, I’m pretty sure I would have found it if it existed.
As I’ve gotten older and been homeschooling longer, I find I am less prone to this problem: worrying that my children aren’t measuring up to other peoples’ and that it’s my fault if they don’t. I have tried a lot of different styles and curricula. A lot! As a result, I have learned what works well for my family and what doesn’t. I know that a loose schedule is the one we are most likely to keep. Too tight a structure makes me want to dump it all, yet I need a sense of what we are doing each day. I know my strengths (history, literature, art), where I can easily wing my way throughout our school year without a textbook in sight, and I also know my weaknesses (math, science) where I need a bit more guidance and the help of a good curriculum. I have also watched several of my older children grow to high school and college ages and I am always a bit amused at how different they each are, despite the fact that I did nearly exactly the same things with them.
I wish I could go back and give my younger self permission to stop searching for the perfect way to homeschool and just continue with what was best for us without the guilt and worry. So if you are new to this life, take my advice, and do what’s right for you and for your family. Don’t feel as though you have to do what your friend is doing, not what various publishers are telling you, but what makes sense for the way your children are wired. This will also mean that what you are doing will undoubtedly be different from what your homeschooling friend or acquaintance is doing, but that’s OK. Different is just different, not better or worse. Our God is a God of freedom and He has given us the ability to ask for wisdom and thus make wise choices about how we raise our children. He’s the only one we need to answer to.
Elizabeth Curry – Encouragement
Elizabeth Curry is on year 14 of homeschooling her 9 children (with #10 arriving via China at some point next year). Devoted bookworms all, it’s not surprising that much of the learning that happens centers around whatever chapter book is being read. When she isn’t taking care of children or reading, she enjoys sewing, cooking, and writing. Her life of following Jesus with many children in the Big, Ugly House is chronicled at Ordinary Time.