Challenges of the home educating mother part 3: Feeling inadequate
You’re in your mid thirties and have been teaching your five children diligently for a few years now. Today, your 6 month old will not settle and insists on being held by you, grizzling and moving into top gear of screaming. Your 2 yo is tearing around your floorboards on one of those plastic cars, knocking over everything in his path; your 4 year old is gazing out the window, singing to himself, and tracing the nest he sees with his Nutella coated fingers on the glass you cleaned just yesterday; you are alternating between dictating phonograms for the 6 year old and spelling words for the 8yo. He puts his hands over his ears and shouts ‘I can’t hear you mum!”. Well, you can’t hear you either with that screaming baby and rumbling plastic wheels in your ears. Then the toddler tries to put honey on his sandwich himself and knocks it all over the floor. The doorbell rings and it’s that friend who, because you homeschool, knows you will be home when they drop in (at lunchtime). The 6 yo answers the door and leads your guest into…chaos.
Is that you? And not just on occasional days? You better believe it, mama! Ok, so the kids will get their phonograms and spelling test done after lunch when the visitor goes and the baby is in bed (finally). But maybe they won’t because you are dead tired by then, so you just read to them. Is your day ruined? Have you failed? No. You have: shown hospitality, and forced yourself to be gracious and welcoming, your toddler has learned what happens when the lid is left off the honey jar. Your little boys learn that they need to clean up the mess they made when they knocked things down and dirtied the window (after you have taken a photo of the artwork). They learn to help you take care of your guest by being polite and engaging in conversation. They may have even made up some biccies and cheese, and served a drink.
But still, the feeling of inadequacy plagues you from time to time, or maybe all the time. The reasons for this pressure are many; you are not a professional teacher; you are overwhelmed by responsibility; you feel you don’t have the necessary skills; your children are not responding to discipline; you have a special needs child; you are comparing your situation to other children who attend school; you are comparing your family to other families; you constantly seem to run out of time and don’t get things done to your satisfaction; you do not know enough maths; and you feel like there are things your children are missing out on. If you imagine you had sent your children to school, I think you will find you would still have almost all these reasons in your head when you are faced with dissatisfying circumstances.
Another reason for inadequacy not always so obvious comes down to your motivation and reason for home educating in the first place, creating pressures that you need not have. If your reasons are more pragmatic, that homeschooling will provide convenience for your family or will provide a freed-up lifestyle, then succumbing to change will be more likely as you consider the advantages that other choices give you. If you have school as a back-up always in your mind, then you will feel the pressure to keep up with state requirements.
Another less obvious reason we can feel inadequate and uneasy that what we are doing is not hitting the target is because of how our society is developing the concept of, and implementing, education. Mass public schooling is a recent thing in history, and by moving from education in a family environment to an institutionalised environment in the last 200-300 years, we have moved from teaching wisdom to education to filling up with information. This has created a conflict in a home educating parent’s heart, as they know intrinsically that the passing on of information is not what they do. Parents teach through relationship and discipleship, passing on wisdom and life knowledge. Remember the ‘state’ has different goals for your children than you do, you are running on a different train line so it’s to be expected that there will be conflict. You do not teach in order that your child will pass the test (although you do fall into that trap sometimes). You teach because you care about your child’s future, how they will survive and thrive, how they will pass on civilised behaviour, and all the rest that is in your heart, and not to fall into a government’s idea about how its citizens ought to be shaped in order to fit in with its agenda.
An aware mother doing her best to provide an organic family learning environment is far better than a manufactured, coloured-paper-collaged-bulletin-board type environment. We need to remember that schools, although they purport the opposite in modern times, are the ones who are trying to replicate what parents do naturally, that is: teach children. And we certainly will teach them whether it’s good or bad, whether we are aware of it or not, because we are wired to do so, and children are wired to to take note of parents.
Although it is a fact of nature that parents are the teachers of children, for the Christian parent it is not merely a natural occurrence that gives them that opportunity or authority. They are given a mandate from God himself. God has ordained parents to pass on to children the source of truth and wisdom from his word, his commands that keep us safe and allow us to live in harmony with others, and most importantly who God is, his plan of salvation and why we need him (Deuteronomy 6). God has given you gifts and talents that he expects you to use to shape the child he has given you. Some of those gifts have been inherited by them. Do not despise the opportunity and expectation that God has for you in this life of service to him.
One of the reasons you hesitated about homeschooling in the first place was your feeling of inadequacy – but you still went ahead and did it. It did not stop you, and it shouldn’t stop you at any point. The first step in overcoming the powerful de-motivator of inadequacy is to see it as a healthy thing, helping us stay humble to the task, and motivating us to examine our goals and methods to do better. This is the key to good teaching. We all know as we get older that the more we learn, the more we realise we don’t know and this becomes painfully obvious when we begin to educate our own children. Learning, for our children, is so much more vibrant and successful if the parent has the realization that he/she is being taught also, and has a desire to learn.
So now we have teased out why we feel inadequate, I’ll discuss some practical applications.
Most parents are plagued by the Tyranny of the Urgent, but more so for home educating parents. If we are always dealing with the urgent things, the important things never seem to get done. Most of the urgent things are not important things, and they tend to compound. We find ourselves constantly weeding and never planting, and so risk winding up with no capital or results for the future. We might end up with a weedless patch, but it is also fruitless. We have forgotten why we got to where we are in the first place. Taking stock and sifting through what we think is urgent is vital in our everyday grind. Simplify. Deal with the important – even if it takes longer – that’s the stuff that will bear fruit.
Realise that whatever you’re feeling inadequate about now, will be different next year, and with a different child. Your inadequacy will change as you change. What bothers you now, e.g. not having the time or inclination to do amazing crafts with your preschooler, will not bother you in a couple of years. What bothered me about my first child reaching year 10, does not bother me with my fifth child reaching year 10. Those fears will mature into life experience.
Realise you will make mistakes, and accept yourself as the sinner-in-need-of-sanctification that you are – not to the degree where you are not prepared to improve, but only to the degree that you do not set standards that are too high for you and your family. Set small goals, and look out for and acknowledge the achievements. They are there if you look!
Revisit your original reasons and goals for home educating, and meet regularly with your husband to report and discuss how it is all going – you need his encouragement, male logic and objectiveness, and more so, his leadership. He is the one who has your best interests at heart, and his clarity on the situation will help you keep a healthy perspective. Keep building your friendship with him.
Finally, do not be afraid of feeling inadequate. It is a sign that you realise how important your task is. It should follow with feelings of awe, humility and dependence on the One who has called you to do it, and thus confidence. God has designed the lives of your individual family members this way for his purpose and glory, and he will not leave you alone to try and work it out. He wants you to feel inadequate in yourself so that you will learn to depend on and trust him.
Copyright Joelle Grubb 2016