by Sarah Buchwalder
Unless you're an exceptionally mature and spiritually healthy person, you've probably fallen into the comparison trap.... And unless you live and homeschool in isolation, you've probably run into the homeschool parent who tries to tell you you're doing it wrong and sell you on the merits of their method.
Have you ever been here? You're doing the best you can, but you see so-and-so's kid mastering a foreign language while your child is still struggling to read English. You see that family over there investing tons of money and time (which you don't have) into stringed instruments, sailing camps, riding lessons, or whatever it may be, and you start to feel very, very bad that you can't provide your kids with the same - especially when they ask you if they can join their friends. So-and-so, blessed with excellent health and energy, tackled every subject plus more AND brought her kids on a hike today and it's only 2 pm. So far you've gotten some laundry in and helped your oldest with her math; the rest of the time was spent in various forms of damage control. I once sat in a library program in which another (very well-heeled) homeschool mom asked me if I liked to travel Europe alone. I almost choked on my coffee (out of laughter or indignation, I'm not sure). Excuse me? I'm lucky if I can run errands on a Saturday morning alone. I would be over the moon if I could manage a trip to Europe on a cattle boat.
Or have you ever been here? This or that homeschool parent goes by THIS curriculum/philosophy and they are really excited about it. Or maybe even pushy. Things have been going just fine for you and your homeschooled student(s), but now you wonder if you've been going about it all wrong. Did I invest in the wrong books? Should I stay up late following all these threads about Charlotte Mason? I once had a homeschool parent (I kid you not) over several playdates try to convince me that I shouldn't be teaching my daughter to read. She was so sold on a particular radical unschooling guru that she thought my first grader - who was meeting each educational and developmental milestone just fine and who demonstrated no ostensible obstacles to reading at that age - shouldn't be learning to read; I shouldn't be teaching her. She should only be playing outdoors (barefoot, of course. I received several lectures on the evils of shoes as well.)
Don't compare your homeschool experience to others. Envy and resentment lie that way.
Or have you ever been here? Maybe you have a go-your-own-way personality and it's easy to dismiss comparisons of yourself to others. But maybe you beat yourself up about the fact that your home education isn't meeting the standard of what you had hoped and dreamed it would be. ("I'm going to have an orderly and peaceful home, we'll start every subject with an eloquent prayer, we're going to classically educate our children so they can read the Odyssey and the New Testament in their original Greek dialects, we will establish a community of like-minded homeschooling families, all moving through life serenely, all pure of heart.") But here you are scrambling to get in just the required subjects, your pre-teen has no interest of his own in picking up any Bible, and it's been really, really hard to make any good friend you trust, period, since you moved to this area. And you yelled at your most stubborn child already today. Several times.
Don't compare your homeschool reality to your homeschool ideal. Depression and apathy lie that way.
Believe me, I am preaching to myself here, on all accounts.
This is probably the most often quoted passage from Tolkien, so I apologize if it's "played out" (I'm dating myself with that expression) but it's an incredibly wise attitude. In case you DON'T know it, or the context, Gandalf is responding to Frodo's wish that the danger the whole world is currently in (in the story) did not have to happen during his lifetime. Gandalf tells him of course; but that's not up to them to decide. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time" [or resources, or children, or family, or circumstances] "that is given us."
Sarah is a mother of three and a New York expat, homeschooling on the Midcoast. Her degree is in philosophy and she wears multiple hats at HOME (and home). She sort of classically educates her kids and likes being by the ocean, growing food, and having meaningful conversations with friends. She is a pet mom to an especially handsome bearded dragon, three chatty guinea pigs, and a fluctuating flock of hapless Ancona ducks.