comparing

Shielding Your Family Against Home School Envy

Do you ever compare yourself, your parenting, your kids, your husband or your house? Do you scan your girlfriend’s living room with those cute matching throw pillows and that neatly arranged pile of books on her dust-free coffee table and wish that you could just see the surface of your coffee table which is currently hidden under stray Legos, 15 overdue library books and a couple of sippy cups that may or may not be in the process of fermentation?

Or maybe you’re avoiding that family from church, whose kids are always impeccably dressed and well behaved because you’re not sure with your kids brushed their teeth this morning, let along brushing their hair.

And there’s that mom you know is going to ask what your son is doing after graduation just after she finishing telling you about her child’s full scholarship.

Making Comparisons

Too easily and too often, we can get pulled into this type of thinking. Measuring our talents and vocation against our peers’. And if trying to hold ourselves up to someone else isn’t enough, as parents we can fall into this trap all the more by comparing our children to everyone else’s.

I remember mostly distinctly how I began making comparisons soon after my oldest son joined our family. We were visiting with friends when he was about 11 months old and my girlfriend’s daughter was not only a head taller than my son, she was walking and talking. Suddenly my boy’s adorable baby grunts and speed crawling manuvers looked all wrong. Why wasn’t he talking like her? Why wasn’t he walking like her?

Concerns that hadn’t crossed my thoughts before that meeting now became all-consuming worries that he wasn’t doing enough.

There’s More Than One Path

I blame those modern baby books in part. Those What to Expect books and others like them can lay a foundation that leads you to believe there is only one path to success. Admittedly, they can help a novice parent understand the typical sequence of development, but they really need to come with a disclaimer. Kinda like those warnings on car mirrors, they ought to state “Kids in reality are more diverse than they appear here.”

When that same son of ours was old enough to home school, a fellow mom, whose children were enrolled in the local public school, offered to help me out by keeping me abreast of what her daughter was doing in school. She thought it would be beneficial if I mirrored the goals her first grader was achieving. It was a real temptation to take her up on her offer because this was all new territory and she did have a teaching degree.

But then I concluded that we were homeschooling for a reason. We were taking a different educational path because we felt called to and because quite frankly we weren’t happy with what the typical school setting had to offer. We needed to forge our own path not walk in the shadow or her daughter’s achievements.

My Top Bits of Wisdom

If you’re just getting started on your homeschool journey or if you are trying to decide whether to stay the course, these are the top bits of wisdom I’ve gleaned throughout the years.

  1. Identify YOUR reasons for home schooling.

Not your sister’s reasons or your friend’s reasons, but your reasons for homeschooling.

Ask yourself, what are you seeking to give your children? A thorough religious education? Greater flexibility to suit their special needs? Are you trying to lessen the cultural impact during their formative years? Maybe they are particularly interested in music or science and you want to give them more opportunities to follow their passion.

You’ll probably have multiple reasons for remaining in the home so seriously reflect on what those reasons are.

MY REASONS:

My husband and I always intended to home school. Even before we had children, we set home schooling as our intended goal. Neither of us had much exposure to home schoolers, but we felt a calling from God to educate in the home. So for me homeschooling is an extention of my marital vocation, it’s my mission from God. Additionally, a Catholic education was a top priority for us and we wanted to lessen the culture’s impact on the daily lives of our children when they were still young enough for us to do so. I frequently tell people that because God knows me so well He didn’t offer me any outs. Meaning we can’t afford a private Catholic school and any time I’ve fantasized about putting my little darlings on the big yellow bus and gleefully waving goodbye to them our Lord sent someone across my path to share their public school horror story of bullying or stressed out kids.

  1. Form a mission statement for your family.

Write it down if it helps. But between your spouse and yourself, agree on your goals as a family. Decide who are you serving. God? The culture? What educational goals are you hoping to strive for? Do you want a classical curriculum or do you have a child with special needs who requires another path? Will you dedicate time to a ministry, service projects or political activism?

Looking toward other successful families whom you admire can be a good starting point in decided what goals you want to set, but remember that your mission statement needs to reflect your family’s personality, style and individual abilities.

My Family’s Mission

Our mission is to raise Godly kids who love their faith and have the tools to evangelize others and effect cultural change. I’ve chosen curriculum that reflects those goals. Additionally, my husband and I teach Natural Family Planning classes in our home and we try to participate in pro-life events like Marches for Life and rallies as well as engaging our political representatives personally. I’ve taken my children to our state legislature to meet our local representatives. We encourage our kids to understand the reason for our pro-life views and to try to show them that their voice matters. So we incorporate our mission in not only our curriculum choices but in the activities and events we participate in. We try to teach in word and through action.

  1. Set a schedule that suits your family.

Teaching your children to rise early is helpful because it does train them for a typical employment schedule, but if you suffer with health issues or you’ve spent the night tending to a newborn then a rigid start time at 6 am may not be the right plan for you at this point in your life.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be flexible on this. I have at times woken up before my kids and enjoyed a bit of peaceful, quiet time in prayer; however, life changed and so did my needs.

I will cautious though that trying to home school without some sort of a schedule is inviting chaos into your home because children really do thrive when they know what to expect and when to expect it.

I will say that I bought a lovely book all about scheduling last year because even after more than a decade of schooling my crew I thought I needed a better plan. The author had fabulous ideas and worksheets which made me envious, but the reality is that her rigid formula was a bad fit in my household. She stated that the baby should nap every day at an appointed time, but that just wasn’t going to happen with my youngest. I suppose I could have tried to endure a few more days of his torturous screaming midday to see if I could make him stick to the book’s plan, but instead I made peace with the fact that this child is simply happier on his own daytime schedule and I’m happier not trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Home school year-round

Continuing on the theme of scheduling, we home school year-round. We begin our new grades in the spring as opposed to the fall. Psychologically, this has been a great benefit because just about the time that the winter doldrums begin setting in for most home schoolers we are finishing our year out. My kids are usually eager to start their new grades just and the warm weather is starting to return and the window get thrown open. We try to follow a nine weeks on, two weeks off pattern. It is amazing our quickly a nine week semester passes when you know a two week break is coming.

This pace also allows for life to interrupt without throwing your whole calendar into a tail spin. We had a two year period of suffering in our house when I miscarried four babies, my husband lost his job and depression sunk me deep into its pit. Some days it was all that I could do to get up out of bed and go through the motions to keep the children safe and fed. Knowing that we had the wiggle room to stretch out some of our weeks or take a mental health day relieved a great deal of stress for me.

The Heart of Schooling in the Home

As painful as that episode was, it showed the beauty of home schooling. Because the heart of schooling in the home has to do with developing each member of the family. Yes, it is about teaching your kids to read and write, but more than that it is about teaching them how to live. Having our children nearby as we suffered and struggled then eventually healed and grew, was a lesson that couldn’t have been learned from a book.

  1. Develop your prayer life. Make it a priority.

Admittedly, throughout the years we’ve had our lax periods when I’ve let things slide and we always suffer for it. The whole course of the school day just feels different when we begin with adequate prayer time like reciting the rosary together. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised that our day would progress better when we first take the time to place our focus on Jesus. We pray as a family in the evenings and I think that is especially important because my husband takes the lead so that our children see that faith isn’t just a mom-thing.

We’re blessed to have an adoration chapel at our parish, but we were only visiting it infrequently because I was afraid that my younger children could not handle the silence and stillness for an hour. Then a few years back I started subbing in the chapel on my own and something kept prompting me to commit my family to an hour a week. After trying to reason myself out of this plan, I gave in and told my husband who readily agreed to commit. Well let me just say that the first few times had me asking God why He thought it was a good idea for me to give up my peaceful quiet time with Him for another hour of managing two antsy little boys, but we stayed the course and ultimately my little ones learned how to be still and quiet (mostly). Also their presence in the chapel started inspiring adults. I received several notes of thanks and encouragement from other adorers.

Don’t forget your own prayer time, too

You need refreshment, guidance, consolation and encouragement each day. Especially, on the difficult days. Typically, I post a note on social media asking for prayer requests to take to adoration. While this may seem other directed like praying with my kids, I view it as part of my personal time with God. Carrying the intentions of other people helps me to put myself last, but it also helps me to feel connected in this Body of Christ.

So if I’m tempted to bemoan something going on in our household, I have to first pray for the very real needs of others. After praying for someone’s friend who is dying from breast cancer or for another person’s unemployment situation, my own problems seem to diminish or at least get placed into right balance.

  1. Stick with what is working, avoid too much window shopping

Again God helped me out in this area by keeping our budget tight, but there is still a temptation at times to wonder if I should invest in the latest and greatest new spelling curriculum that my girlfriend just found on sale in the vendor area. Kinda like a kid in the toy aisle, I get excited by all the glossy, new book covers and promises of success, but if the book I already own is getting the job done than buying some other version may be a waste of my resources.

We started out purchasing our curriculum from one provider years ago. I liked their philosophy on education and found that my children did well acquiring the basics. I wasn’t perfectly happy with one of the subject that it covered and so I began supplementing that one, but I have stuck with that provider for thirteen years now. My younger children are still utilizing the textbooks I purchased for my eldest sons which saves on our budget in the long run.

For high school I decided that I needed more support so we enrolled in Seton. It was an adjustment the very first year, but again we stayed the course because it was a good, solid education and met our family mission goals. Three of my children have been graduated by Seton now and I will stay the coure with the rest of them as well. Had I changed course when that first child balked, we would have missed out on a great program and, perhaps, the success they are now enjoying after high school.

  1. Purge/change what isn’t working.

This is the other side of the coin, if the curriculum or schedule or teaching style isn’t working any longer or if it isn’t working for one of your children then scrap the old way and implement a program that better satisfies your needs.

When my oldest son was a first grader, I came to realize he was a perfectist. The kid who would draw an incredible sketches and then crumple it into a ball when he determined the scale wasn’t exact. My red correction marks on his schoolwork became like a mattador’s red cap to a bull. I had to get creative. I found that marking his wrong answers in blue or black ink made them less obvious and prevented him from feeling overwhelmed with disappointment and anger. In his later years and with my other children, the red pen didn’t pose a challenge.

Find Creative Solutions

A fellow mom was worrying that her daughter was falling behind in math because they participated in a co-op once a week. Mind you, they were schooling five days out of the week, but on Fridays math wasn’t part of the all-day co-op schedule. Mom was considering having her daughter extend the school week to includes Saturdays so they could work the missing lesson then. I encouraged her to get creative by doubling up on math once a week. I suggested they could cover the material for two new lessons on Mondays but then only do the even or odd numbered problems for each lesson.

A time or two a teen has decided (without informing me) that a subject is too difficult and has shirked some of the lessons propelling him into a viscious cycle. He was struggling so he didn’t do the work thereby skipping the foundational understanding of the lesson which of course led to continuing problems in subsequent lessons. I am going to be completely honest and admit that whenever this has happened I blame myself for not staying on top of everyone and making sure they were accountable every day.

Yes, I’ve even thrown myself a pity party and bemoaned my lack of superwoman skills. But here’s the thing, while yes my kids do need to be held accountable, homeschooling affords us the ability to start again. I have restarted from lesson one in an algebra book when we were halfway through our year. We can do that and we should do that when necessary. And really isn’t that a lesson for life? That no matter how far away we could stray, no matter how lost we might become Our Heavenly Father is always willing to forgive our failings and to take us back.

This applies to your extracurriculars, too.

If playing soccer and taking piano lessons fits into your calendar each week then sign up come the fall, but if giving up the whole day on Friday to participate in a co-op is only pushing your further behind in your educational goals, then opt out this year. Home schoolers have the luxury of partaking in a wide variety of field trips and supplemental classes in many locations, but sometimes those opportunities can become a burden: mentally, physically and/or financially. You don’t have to participate in every sport, play three instruments and attend every avertised field trips in order to provide a thorough educational experience for your child.

7. Form a support system.

It’s not a secret that you are going to have days when you fantasize about the big yellow school bus whisking your darlings away for 8 hours. You are going to second-guess yourself or feel convinced that your kids are much much worse than every other kid on the planet. You are going to want to call it quits to this whole mothering gig or at this is insane plan to school your own offspring.

That’s when you’ll need the fellowship of other mamas at a Moms Night Out. You need to laugh until your cheeks hurt and get those burning questions answered like Does anyone’s son know how to lift the lid? In addition to Moms’ Night Out, you really need Date Nights with your hubby.

Creative Date Nights

When we had a household of little ones my husband and I had a hard time finding (and affording) sitters so we stopped dating one another. That wasn’t a good plan. We needed to keep connecting for the sake of our marriage and our kids. Finally we found a few inventive ways to reestablish date nights again. For a time we formed a supper club with a group of other parents. We rotated houses and everyone contributed a dish to make a full meal. We even had ethnic themes for our meals which added a bit of variety we might never have gotten otherwise. Later, we formed a partnership with just one other couple. We took turns watching each other’s children insuring that they and we got a real date night one time each month. The benefit for the kids was that they got a play date out of the deal. However you need to manage it, make sure that you and your spouse keep dating regularly.

8. Learn to find the blessings in every moment and express gratitude at all times.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Phil 4:6-7 Our perspective on a situation can effect the way we feel about it. So if we see our situation as hopeless or overwhelming we’re going to feel burned out and give up. We can sometimes as the cliché goes make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Probably around the same time I started to re-emerge after my time in the desert of sorrow and depression, I started counting my blessings in a deliberate and conscious way. When I was doing the umpteenth load of laundry for the day and frustration began to creep in, I turned the chore into a prayer of thanksgiving.

As I folded the underpants I said thank you, Lord for the clothes we have on our backs. As I piled baby’s onesies, I thanked Him for the privilege of motherhood and I offered my time for the woman who was struggling with infertility. Fumbling with the bedding, I thanked Him for a safe , comfortable place to rest our heads at night and I remembered families living in unsanitary conditions.

His Ways Are Always Better

This can be especially helpful when we are tempted by envy. When we are wishing we had someone else’s spacious house or beautiful school room or quiet children, we need to give thanks for what God has seen fit to give to us because His ways are always better than ours (trust me on that).

Allowing your children to hear you in your thanksgiving prayers and praises goes a long way toward inspiring them to follow your example. When the oldest were little I did a better job of remembering to thank my husband at dinner time (he’s our chef). I thanked him for his hardwork preparing a delicious meal. Although I’m a bit more remiss in now it isn’t uncommon for the kids to remember to thank him. And anytime we travel somewhere out of the ordinary I thank my husband or I remind my children to thank me when I take them to the park, the beach, out to eat, etc.

We all want to be appreciated. Teach your children to show their appreciation by first setting the example.

Saint or Job

Far too many times when I tell people that I am the mother of 8 children, they brand me as either a living saint or a modern day Job. Wide-eyed at the prospect of managing/co-managing just-shy-of a dozen lives (counting my hubby in the mix), they tell me how they could never do my job. Placing me on some imaginary pedestal, but the truth is that I am not superhuman nor even particularly patient. I am just a work in progress.

Maybe, I’m even a little guilty of holding myself up to some hardly attainable image of household perfection. When I lament about the fifteen piles of randomly stacked library books in every room of the house, the rarely visible counter spaces and the endless supply of dirty little boys’ socks littering the yard, my husband reminds me this is a home and not a showcase. It’s the place where memories get made and lives gets lived. He’s right of course (but couldn’t those memories be just a bit neater).

Tug-of-War

It would seem that this theme repeats frequently in my life as of late. This internal tug-of-war to rise above my deficiencies countered against the daily temptations to raise the white flag in surrender. I’m certain that I could succeed in living up to all those preconceived ideals of sainthood and Job-like fortitude if only my house was tidy and my children continued their charming public personas at home. You know, life would be perfect if my yard was as green as my neighbor’s. Then again, I guess we’d all be models of perfection if the world revolved according to our specifications.

Parenting is hard (often tireless) work even more so when you’re spending your days together schooling, but it’s the surest road to sanctification. The 8 personalities under my care (plus the 1 who calls me wife) certainly test me daily, but at the same time they each make me a far, far better person than I could ever be without their help.

They Make Me Better

They cause me to work toward being generous (sharing everything from my time to that last chocolate chip cookie), purposeful (because it takes structure and planning to move children from point A to point B), humble (nothing is quite as humbling as a child pointing out your left-over belly or your ineptitude at sports), patient (watching Elmo Goes Potty for the 20th time in a row), thoughtful (picking out just the right curriculum to meet their individual needs), prayerful (whether I’m praying for them, because of them or for the world around them, they keep me praying) and persistent (they might call it nagging, but I call it persistence). And when I fail to get it right, my love for them leads me to try anew every.single.day.

Rather than pine away for your sister’s talents, your friend’s family or your neighbor’s house, open your eyes to the abundance of blessings around you. Reflect on why God called YOU to parent these particular children. What lessons are THEY teaching YOU?

And remember that each one of those seemingly tedious chores is another opportunity to sacrifice your will and adopt the heart of a servant. Each one offers you the chance to grow closer to your Lord by turning act of laundering, scrubbing the dirty dishes, wiping those fingerprints off the mirror, changing a diaper or making a bed into a prayer of gratitude.

A Little Advice

In closing, I’d like to leave you with some advice I picked up in adoration a few years back. It uses the female pronoun, but it is advice for all of us, dads and moms alike. It came from a little book called In the Light of the Monstrance which was written by St. Peter Julian Eymard. In it he states: Henceforth, she will give the name of good, joy, happiness, virtue, zeal and perfection only to that which bears the seal of the will of God. What does God want? What does he desire? What will please Him most? Therein is her one law, her one choice, HER LIFE.

She serves God according to the grace of the moment. She clings neither to her state of life, nor to the means of holiness, nor to her graces; she finds her rest only in the holy will of God. She knows that her good Master will lead her by the hand through every difficulty to the grace and perfection of His love.

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