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Doing It All: The Struggle for Your Mind

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By Beverly S. Krueger

So, you think you can do it all? Or at least you hope you can do it all? If you are expecting this series of articles to give you some magic formula for combining all the activities and responsibilities you had before homeschooling with all your new homeschool activities and responsibilities, I’ll tell you right off the top. There is no magic formula, which can fit 200 hours of activity into a 168-hour week. If you’ve spent the last year trying--you know what I’m talking about.

Where does that leave us? I’ve just told you there is no solution. Actually, that’s not quite correct. There is a solution, but it does not involve doing it all.

Well then, if we can’t do it all, how do we go about figuring out what we should be doing? When we ask ourselves how do I fit it all in, there’s an underlying supposition that we have to fit it all in or we are some how bad parents damaging the quality of our children’s lives forever. The relatively easy decision of whether there is time in your schedule to fit soccer, ballet, piano lessons, and creative art classes becomes a question of denying your children their potential future as the world’s next prima ballerina or soccer star. Let’s all step back into reality, if little Clyde is really going to be a soccer star, that particular gifting won’t suddenly evaporate if you try ballet this year and soccer next. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

When we ask ourselves how do I fit it all in, we are asking the wrong question. Rather than trying to figure out how we can do everything that we feel must be done, let’s look at the real questions we should be asking. By answering these questions, you will discover that a good deal of the pressure associated with our original question disappears of its own accord. What you’re experiencing is a struggle for your mind, your home, and your family. I’ll address the struggle for your mind in this article, and in coming articles the struggle for your home and your family.

The Struggle for Your Mind

Who are you listening to?

Our daily lives are a multitude of voices telling us which bathroom cleaner to buy, which movies we should see, and which foods are healthy to eat. Input, input, input! Homeschooling is no different. Friends, family, other homeschoolers all have something to say about how or why your family is homeschooling. Those inputs can range from openly hostile to overwhelmingly encouraging.

When you begin homeschooling, it is completely normal for your extended family to question your decision. Homeschooling has become ‘normal’ in the last few years. Most people have heard of it and are not opposed to you and yours doing what they would never do, a whatever makes your boat float mentality. When it’s the grandkids, though, grandparents need to take a little closer look at homeschooling.

Both my husband’s mother and my mother are schoolteachers. My own mother had grown accustomed to my decisions being a little out of the main stream. She’s a conservative Christian, so homeschooling wasn’t a new notion to her, nor was she in denial about the state of public education. Still she had questions and concerns. Over time, the questions have been answered and the concerns have evaporated as our oldest children have graduated and gone on to successful post homeschool lives. My husband’s family was much more strongly opposed. We experienced nothing like the horror stories I’ve heard from other homeschoolers. His parents agreed that public schools were not all they should be, but the children should at least be in private school. As a teacher in a Catholic school, my mother-in-law felt we should try parochial school. There was a not too subtle campaign to suggest to our kids that they could live with Grandma and go to her school. There were some tense times, but mutual love and respect helped us to deal with the problems. A long chat between my husband and his dad helped to cement an understanding. We had put a great deal of thought into what we were doing, and although they couldn’t agree that it was the right decision, they would not question it again and would do all they could to support us.

That was a happy ending. Not all families arrive at a happy ending. Remember why you arrived at the decision to homeschool as you are working through the questions and concerns of extended family. It has been my experience that those opposed to homeschooling will take you down all kinds of rabbit trails that can lead you to begin questioning your original decision. On one visit with the relatives, you present impressive reasons to quash all their socialization questions only to find that on your next visit they feel your older son is enjoying playing with your younger son too much. He needs to have friends and activities his own age. He just shouldn’t like playing with a younger child.

If your family is opposed to your homeschooling, they will find fault in something your family does or doesn’t do. If they can’t find it in your family, they’ll have a horror story to tell of some other homeschool family where all the children are now incarcerated or living on the dole. You need to learn to listen with earplugs. Your earplugs need to filter out the doubt while you maintain a dialogue with your relatives. Time is often the great debate ender. Many homeschoolers experience a move from great opposition to open appreciation as homeschooled grand children demonstrate to their grandparents that ill mannered, selfishness is not a by-product of homeschooling but of public schooling.

Open opposition is one thing. At least you know that you have a fight on your hands. A friend of mine has a brother who is an administrator in the local public school district. He continually undermines her homeschooling confidence by pointing out weak areas in her children’s lives. Oh, he totally supports her homeschooling. He just wants to make sure she’s doing it right. So he asks, “Have you had Delbert tested for this learning disability?” Or, if Clara doesn’t want to play her piano recital piece for the family gathering, he’ll ask, “What opportunities are you giving her to be in front of people?” She’s all of 8 years old. No, he doesn’t come right out and say, I think your child lacks proper socialization skills that can only be gained in a school setting. He doesn’t make such a bald statement. Nevertheless, it’s implied when his comments or questions always focus on what is lacking in her children and they are said with a concerned wrinkling of his brow. A weekly dose of brotherly concern left her continually reevaluating the foundational question ---should I homeschool my kids. This made it difficult for her to move on to other homeschooling and parenting issues. She was never sure she was doing things right. She needed to tell her brother that his help was anything but helpful, and would he please cool it. She had a hard enough time telling herself, that what he was doing wasn’t helpful. She shouldn’t have been listening to that voice.

As an exercise, I want you to look at the voices in your life and determine if there are some you shouldn’t be listening to or some with whom you should be wearing ear plugs. That could be someone who is offering too much criticism, but it could also be the person offering too much good advice. If you find yourself changing your homeschooling style every time a new speaker comes down the pike or if your homeschooling style is based on what your best friend is doing, maybe it’s time you turned the volume down on those outside sources and focused on deciding what your homeschooling style is really all about. Regimented Rita may have you doing the textbook drill team high step or unschooling Ursula have you drinking 20 cups of relaxing moments tea to keep yourself from forcing an elaborate unit study on your children. If neither of these is really you, struggling to maintain the fiction is using up both time and energy. If you haven’t spent time thinking about what your own homeschooling style is and what best suits your family, you need to do that right away.

Are you clinging to false expectations?

There are two kinds of false expectations. First, those that come because we don’t know any better. Second, those that come because we’ve bought into the idea that there is an ideal homeschooling family and we need to strive to become that family.

The first kind of false expectation is easier to deal with because for most homeschoolers these expectations become undoable almost immediately. They involve our understanding of how to ‘do’ school. Most homeschoolers are the product of classroom learning. We went to school. We know what teacher’s do. We’ve had plenty of teachering done to us. We know about textbooks and tests, grade cards and recess. Very few have had much involvement with one-on-one tutoring, which more closely resembles homeschooling than a traditional classroom style teaching. Often, although less often than in past years, new homeschoolers attempt to replicate school at home. Most find within a span of weeks that this doesn’t work. Since we’ve already made the move away from ‘school’ as a required part of our children’s lives, dumping the additional ‘school’ baggage is easy. If we were to take a survey on the top ten words of advice to new homeschoolers, number one would be “Relax.” Those of you who are just starting out, if you remember only one thing remember to remind yourself to relax every day.

If you’ve ever found yourself doing something not because it’s what you really want to do or believe is the correct way to do something but because someone else may be watching who has a different notion, you’ll know that we are all susceptible to letting others do our thinking for us. The example that pops to mind that most parents have experienced is child discipline. Imagine yourself in a public setting, the mall or a family reunion. Your child has just done something that you would quietly correct at home, but in public it has “bad mothering skill” written all over it. You then proceed to discipline your child in such a way that everyone in the next half mile will know that you don’t tolerate that sort of behavior in your home.

Why do we do things like that? Parents seem to have a built in database of what the world expects of our children and us. “Children should be seen and not heard.” You may not believe it, but I’ll bet it’s in your database. Under just the right circumstances, that expectation will cause you to turn your deeply held convictions on their head and your decision to never raise your voice in anger to your children will get thrown right over. We’ve all done it. Maybe not over that particular expectation, but some other similar expectation from the database. You’ll know you’ve entered the land of expectations when your child gives you a look of distrust and fear and begins wailing, “Who are you? And what did you do with my mother?”

You probably didn’t know it, but when you began homeschooling, you added an entirely new table to your expectations database--homeschool expectations or how to be the ideal homeschool family.

Homeschooler make jokes about living up to the folks on the cover of the Teaching Home magazine. Every issue they manage to find another well-scrubbed family with bright eager eyes and carefully coordinated outfits. Getting my family ready for a photo shoot for this magazine would be my definition of a very bad time. There’s a reason why my husband asks me if he looks okay before important events. He has passed his lack of color coordination on to his son. I usually discover sartorial errors on the walk into Sunday morning church service, the one day I really try to be sure everyone looks decent. A few Sundays ago, it was an orange floral shirt with burgundy shorts. Neither father nor son saw anything wrong with the combination. In fact, they defended it. Don’t expect to see us on the cover of the Teaching Home. But, back to homeschool expectations.

What are some of the common expectations of homeschoolers?

  1. You must make sure that your children are involved in enough outside activities to be able to respond with assurance to questions about whether they are properly socialized.
  2. You must finish every textbook.
  3. Homeschooled children all score above average on standardized tests.
  4. You must make sure your children perform to this level, so that homeschooling won’t lose this vital proof that homeschooling works.
  5. You must give your children standardized tests every year or you will not know if they have made progress.
  6. Homeschool children are always extremely well behaved.
  7. Homeschoolers are academically advanced.
  8. I must never let my children get behind.

You get the idea. Add to these general notions about homeschooling a whole host of expectations that you can get from your homeschooling friends and you can be in real trouble if you aren’t careful.

When you feel as if you are jumping through hoops that someone else set up, stop and think about what’s causing you to sign up for that activity or purchase that board game. At your homeschool support group, somebody else shares that their family life has finally reached the pinnacle of perfection because they are now devoting every Friday to family board game night. Oh, that’s the solution. Family board game night. You buy Candy Land and Life, click off game 4 of the NBA Eastern division finals your husband and oldest daughter have just settled down to watch, roust your younger son from an intense game with the boy next door of “I shot you, you’re dead. No, I’m not!” and gather all these eager board game players around the card table. Amazingly enough, you don’t reach the pinnacle of familial bliss that night. That’s a rather silly example, to illustrate something we all do. We hear the success of another homeschooler and we decide to try that in an effort to become the ideal homeschool family.

We hear that another homeschool family is studying the migration patterns of Monarch butterflies and are participating in a national study. Oh, my goodness, my children don’t have a clue that Monarch butterflies migrate much less where they go. A friend, Cleodora, raves about the new calculus program her 6-year-old is working on. Another friend gives us a full blow by blow on the joys of delayed academics and how it’s turned her little son, Sparticus, from a nightmare child into a docile lad.

It’s very easy to become double minded when we allow all these voiced and unvoiced expectations to unduly influence us. A key point to remember. You are unique. Your family is unique. Your homeschooling should be unique. Homeschooling is a blessing because it means you don’t have to do things the way everyone else does them. Each child’s education can be tailored to his personality, his gifts, and his interests. When you hear about another homeschool family following their unique interests and gifts, rejoice that they can do that and that you can follow your own path. Use other homeschoolers’ ideas when they fit your family.

It’s also important to point out that when people are sharing a success story that doesn’t mean they don’t have difficult times, too. If you find yourself in the middle of a bragging society picnic don’t come away from it feeling less satisfied with yourself or your kids because they don’t stack up to everyone else’s highlights. Our kids deserve recognition for their successes. I’m certainly not above doing a little bragging about my own kids. My point here is that if hearing about other’s successes has a negative influence on you, you need to learn to remind yourself not to take their success as an indictment of homeschooling failure on your part.

When you really do have a problem, then absolutely do seek other homeschoolers’ advice. That may mean asking someone to help you figure out what the problem is first, rather than getting a host of answers that don’t really address the problem. When you ask people for advice, listen politely. You do not have to implement their advice. I may be a pack rat, but I have no problem filing ideas in the circular when they don’t fit my family.

You can win the struggle for your mind if you learn to place all the voices in perspective and keep your expectations in line with reality.

Copyright ©  2004 Eclectic Homeschool Association

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