Homeschooling’s Dirty Little Secret

color splash Pictures, Images and PhotosThings had gotten bad in our support group.  The battle lines had been drawn. Two of our homeschooling membership had gotten into a competition of sorts. They came to each meeting with scripture on their lips and a quiet smile plastered on their faces, but there was a squint-eyed gleam in their eyes.  And it was getting worse with each meeting.

Barbara Ann arrived just a tad early to every meeting practically bursting to share her son’s latest feats.

    “Why yes, this past month my son Reginald was accepted to the NASA Jr. Space internship program, <pause for effect> ,his essay got 1st place in the Patrick Henry Brains-of-America  contest, and with the sheer power of his mind he rid himself of the measles. Praise be to God.”

The room held its breath and waited, for they knew that now… it was Wilhelmina’s turn.

     “We’ve got a praise report too!” Wilhelmina popped up.  “Our little Desmond’s building design has been chosen for the new Presidential library, the book he wrote last year is in its third printing, and <tearful eyes…sniff, sniff> he touched us all with finding a little orphan boy in Croatia and giving him his spleen.”

Wilhelmina triumphantly sat down, but Barbara Ann now looked menacingly at her son Reginald’s abdomen, presumably searching for spare parts.

I will admit to you that this is a slight exaggeration. The Barbara Ann/Wilhelmina exchange is only an example of how some praise reports make me feel, not what they actually report. In fact, most of the time the comments are perfectly reasonable, and the women doing the reporting are actually…well, lovely. But there definitely are two camps in homeschooling circles.

Camp 1–those whose kids are on an upward spiral to be more and more impressive with each passing month and

Camp 2–those whose parents are working harder and harder to hide the fact that their kids’ best accomplishments including falling out of their chairs and burping through the names of the apostles.

Actually, there’s also a third group—and that is the vast majority of those who fall in between groups one and two. Most kids won’t be a starting forward for the NBA, or missionaries in Peru, or winners of the televised Spelling Bee. Most kids learn their times tables relatively “on time” and can generally read at grade level. And most kids will graduate with some sense that George Washington, George Gershwin and George Clooney are not contemporaries.

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s that we all tend to judge our success by those who are achieving more than us. And of course the bad news is that there is always someone achieving more than us!   Everywhere you turn there is someone doing something that you have yet to do.  You start homeschooling by creating a reasonable list of expectations for the school year. But that creeping virus of borrowing from everyone else’s plan begins to set in.

At first you decide to read Bible stories to your children. But then you learn that Julie’s child is studying the Greek and Hebrew roots of words in selected verses.

Scratching scribble sounds.  It goes onto your list.

Then you planned on working through a sweet little science book. But you learn that Rebecca’s children are splicing their own DNA.

Scratch. Scratch. Scribble. Scribble.

Every monthly visit to your support group adds 3-4 items on your ever growing list. But even if you don’t go to support groups, you can do the same thing with homeschooling magazines. Pam, another homeschooling mom, shares “I quit reading home school magazines years ago when a mother wrote in about how her 18 month old had a heart for the unsaved Asian children of the world.  18 MONTHS old!  At the time, my 18 month old was sitting on the back porch picking the fuzz out from between her toes!”

There’s nothing wrong with being on the lookout for new ideas that might be well-suited to your children and your academic objectives.  The problem is when ALL the new ideas sound like they might suit. Even with good ideas, there can simply be too many of them on your list. You cannot do it all at once. You may be providing a huge variety of wonderful, enriching exposures for your children, but the downside can be a frenzied activity-filled day that leaves everyone exhausted. 

So what’s a homeschooling parent to do? It’s really an issue of trusting yourself. Make your plans. Determine your objectives for your child. Then, stick to your guns. And when the Barbara Anns and Wilhelminas of the world amaze and astound with their superhuman achieving children, just smile, nod, rejoice with them in their good fortune…and then pray that Reginald gets to keep his spleen.

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28 Responses to “Homeschooling’s Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Stephanie Thomas Says:

    Thank you so much for today’s post. You will never know how timely! I guess the Lord knew just what I needed to hear today. We’ve utilized all forms of schooling with our kids – private, public, and home. Now after 2 years of public school we’re feeling the Lord leading us to homeschool again! And boy has the comparison game started. I truly don’t feel like your typical homeschool family… whatever that is, huh?!!! My sizzler is the one burping through EVERYTHING!!! So, again, thank you for the boost I needed today. Now off to read with him! And it’s not Greek or Hebrew!!!

  2. carolbarnier Says:

    Yeah…that comparison thing eventually pulls on us all. Just enjoy reading with your kids…in plain old English. What a concept!

  3. Amberlee Says:

    Don’t forget to trust your children! They know when and what is best for them to learn. Learning is a natural process and we as parents and educational systems seem to think that there is no way anyone can learn without being forced to learn it. However, when we think back at things we didn’t enjoy and were forced to do or learn we realize how untrue being forced and coerced into learning things we no longer remember was. Not every child wants to read at 4 or 5–many aren’t capable of “getting it” till they are 11 or 12. We have compartmentalized the various subjects instead of leaving it natural and part of the whole of learning. So give your kids some respect for knowing themselves better–for being “as little children” as they learn joyfully, respectfully on their own….instead of being forced to learn irrelevant things (to the child) to make mom or dad look good at the next homeschool meeting.

  4. Rebekah Says:

    Thank you and as always, I HEARTILY AGREE! I have shunned all reading of such magazines and other things that leave me guilt riddled about my seeming lack of accomplishments as a teacher.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Who knew that guilt could actually come by subscription?! At least I can see that most homeschooling magazines are working very, very hard on their “let’s-be-real” factor. ‘Bout time!

  5. Shary Says:

    This was very welcome in this house today as well, a I struggled with my Aspie once again on writing. I often wonder if my boys are learning what they need to in order to be successful. Do they have the right skills to make it to college? I’m not so much worried about the content as I am the skills. And each time I talk to someone with a child the same age, I wonder again. Thanks for the reminder to love my children, teach them to love God (even though you didn’t really say that), and read to them and teach them the way they need to be taught – learning glitches and all!

  6. Kim Says:

    Thank you so much for this post! As the mother of a sizzler/struggling learner I often feel like I’m being judged by other homeschooling moms because my child is not as far along on things as their children are. Am I imagining some of this judgment? Maybe. But I also think that it is hard to understand having a sizzler/struggling learner if you don’t have one. Thanks for the encouragement to keep my eyes on my child (and on the Lord) instead of other homeschooling families.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      I suspect that sometimes the judgement is imagined and sometimes it isn’t. But I’ve also always said, that if it weren’t for God’s decision to give me a Sizzler, I believe I’d be the one passing unfair judgement. Thanks goodness, all we moms of Sizzlers have each other. You know…that mile-in-my shoes thing.

  7. Cathy Says:

    Thanks for sharing this today! I needed this encouragement. I told my sizzler son the story of how the Sizzle Bop name came about. He said, “Wow, he is a talented spitter!” : )

    • carolbarnier Says:

      I can’t wait to tell my son that he has now earned the title of “Talented Spitter” ! I think I’ll make him a laminated badge and present it to him at dinner. Tee hee.

  8. Dina Says:

    Thank you for your report. Most of the time, I feel uncomfortable with the Christian community of homeschooler and feel more at home with some of hippies and casual homeschoolers that are more friendly and accepting of others.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Yeah…it is an unfortunate truth that my beloved Christian community can often be hardest on people when their need for compassion is the greatest. My father, a pastor, said the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded.” 🙂 THEREFORE…let those of us who really understand what it’s like to have a Sizzler, stick together!

  9. Lourdes Says:

    Whew!!! Thank you, Carol. Very encouraging. Very timely. Thank you for putting words in one of my struggles. I guess, this does not happen only with homeschooling communities but to non-homeschooling families as well. Conventionally schooled children who seem to do very good in school vs. homeschooled children.

  10. Stephanie Says:

    Oh, this is so true! I really enjoyed this today! Thank you for reminding me why I chose NOT to school my kids like everyone else. My little sizzler is struggling with reading (but he HAS figured out that he can pick his nose much faster if he uses two fingers at once–his latest nervous tic), and my hubby asks if the kids really have learned all they should to go to the next grade! Oh, and the 4-year old has decided he does NOT want to be in Kindergarten next year! Needless to say, I had been a little frustrated with it all! Thanks for your timely encouragement! Tomorrow, I will be able to calmly sound out the words with the sizzler (and be thankful that he is no longer ruining his shirts by eating them…this latest nose-picking phase will pass too…I hope!), and encourage the other two kids also. Thanks Carol!

    • carolbarnier Says:

      We went through the chewing on our toes phase, biting phase, sliding down the laundry chute phase, and spitting on lightbulbs phase (just to name a few). I’m certain that when it comes to the nose-picking stage, you are correct; it too will pass.

  11. Megan Says:

    Thanks for this post, it made me chuckle. As my mom once said to me, when I was knee high to a grasshopper, “some kids have fancy moms who want their kids to be fancy. I am not a fancy mom, and I don’t care if you do fancy things. I love you and want you to grow up to love learning and love God.”

    That’s still my modus operandi.

  12. Rebecca Says:

    Oh such a good post, as usual. I have an award at my blog for you.

  13. carolbarnier Says:

    Thanks for the award! I’m now scouting out who I’m going to give it to. It gives me another reason to stay at my computer and avoid dealing with the dishes. 🙂

  14. micki Says:

    oh my goodness, i LOVE reading your blog and the comments that come after it. it makes me feel soooooo much better about my struggling learning (not so much a sizzler, just struggling, *i* am the sizzler :).

    i wish my ex would realize that my kiddo does not need to go to public school… i think i would feel like we would compare even more or worse that he would get stuck in special ed classes, when really he just learns a little differently… sigh.

    i really struggle sometimes and wonder why God gave me a struggling learner. but i think it is because i needed to learn a few things like humility and also compassion and how to work with people who don’t learn as quickly as i tend to.

    thanks carol, you’re the best! sizzle on….

  15. carolbarnier Says:

    It’s hard for parents to get on the same page when it comes to Sizzlers. Most of the time, we don’t even know what book to start in, let alone, getting on the same page of it. But I’m convinced love covers a multitude of poor parenting choices.

  16. homeschoolmentormom Says:

    Wonderful post! I think all homeschoolers need a good dose of “developmentally appropriate” pills, downed with a big glass of “balance”. I blog about balanced homeschooling/homepreschooling http://www.susanlemons.wordpress.com and I hope you’ll come visit!
    Blessings,
    Susan Lemons

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Hand me a big glass of BALANCE. (maybe two) Love that imagery! And I DID take a look at your site. You’ve been busy! Thanks for a voice of sanity in some of the craziness.

  17. Barbara Says:

    Competition between parents is so unfair. Unfair for the parents and for the kids as well, and uncomfortable for others who have to listen and watch.

    I have gotten to where I just don’t tell people about some of my kids’ accomplishments, or even their funny little pastimes, because people roll their eyes and say, “Of course, YOUR kids would do that…” I got this when my 6-year-old was given nine of those shiny polished semiprecious stones in a little bag as a gift. He lined them up and called them by the names of the planets (“This one is Earth; it’s blue. This one must be Jupiter because it’s the biggest.”) I thought it was funny and cute. My wonderful friends thought I was bragging about how smart my child was. It was embarrassing.

    There is always a chance we really are bragging! (I am so, so not immune to this!)

    Sometimes, though, we have gifted kids and don’t realize that when our 11-year-old and 13-year-old prepare and act out Pride and Prejudice in its entirety using Barbie dolls, this is not normal kid behaviour. I have eagerly shared such things with other parents, hoping to get a laugh (“Aren’t kids funny!? What do your kids do that brightens your life?”) only to discover, too late, that it isn’t funny or entertaining. It’s bragging.

    One solution is for overachiever parents to find (if possible!) and join an online group for parents of gifted homeschoolers. I was lucky enough to belong to one for a few months, before they changed their name and I lost them online. It was one place where you could talk about your 12-year-old’s college trigonometry course and others would agree about how hard it was to have a kid who could do trigonometry and yet threw a child-sized temper tantrum when asked to clean his room.

    Other than that…I would seriously suspect the veracity of anyone who says her 18-month-old has a heart for unsaved Asian children. Does this mean Mommy says, “Let’s pray for the unsaved Asian children,” and the child says, “Dear Jesus, help those unsaved Asian children”? Or even remembers to pray for them (as in, mention their names during prayer time) for days or weeks running? This does happen. Kids love routine. They will repeat things for days or months because they love the comfort of the familiar.

    As someone said once about boasting about a certain luxury possession–“Don’t flaunt it; others either have one, or they don’t.” Either the others’ children are as brilliant as yours (and therefore don’t need you to tell about your child’s brilliancy; they’re used to the phenomenon) or they’re slightly closer to the middle of the “normal” scale, in which case do you want to make them feel bad just so you can feel superior?

  18. carolbarnier Says:

    It really is hard sometimes to simply comment on something. I think most of the time the goal isn’t to make others feel bad, but rather to have others join us in feeling good. You know? That old “rejoice with others” thing? But, for better or worse, it’s not something most of us are good at.

  19. Amy Myers Says:

    I laughed out loud when I read this post… I had a similar experience with a couple of mothers in our Lego Robotics group. I also feel the pressure when I go to the annual HS Conference. I love them and feel renewed everytime I go but I also feel like I’m doing something wrong after looking at all those curriculum choices and stories of success. Ahhhhh..

  20. Barbara Says:

    Our 14-year-old, a very smart and multitalented girl, had the nerve to tell someone this week that she & her brother were a couple of years behind their age group in math…which they are. I was briefly annoyed at her announcing this to a group of other homeschoolers & their parents, then reminded myself that we had already decided this was OK. (A college student who had homeschooled since grade 2 and never taken a formal math course till he was 14 once told me that you can “do” all twelve grades worth of math in 2 years; at least that was what he did. We haven’t completely avoided math, but we haven’t made it a major issue yet, either.)

  21. Pam Martinez Says:

    This is so right on the money! And…we pull that comparing thing into all aspects of our lives, too. Hard to get our marching orders for our own little tribe from the Almighty…then we start looking around and imagine that He might need some help! I love His uniqueness, and how home schooling allows for that to grow in our children. Fun reading!

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