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Coping with Feelings of Parental Inadequacy

© Beverley Paine

It doesn't matter how old I get I am terribly plagued by the feelings of inadequacy, both as a mother and as a homeschooler - even though my children are now adults! I often wonder if home educators get a double dose of control-freak genes. But then I talk to women and men who don't homeschool and find they have the same problem. Maybe it is a generational thing. But then I talk to older people, and younger people, and they have it too. It's definitely a cultural thing. So can I blame my Anglo heritage?

This week I am going through another one of those periods when I feel that the work that I do is alternatively 'useless', 'not good enough', 'a waste of time', and that I should really be doing something else. ALL of my life I have felt like I should be doing something else. On my really anxious days I feel like I should be somewhere else, anywhere but here. On my really depressed days I am convinced I shouldn't be anywhere at all.

How can a young person in her teens feel like this, and then in every decade since?

Not measuring up is a huge bugbear in my life. Yet you wonderful people keep sending me the most treasured messages of love. I know that what I receive is a measure of what I give out and year by year it's getting more nourishing, more supportive. I am ever so gradually learning to let go of the need to be 'perfect'.

The psychobabblists of earlier decades had me believe that my father is at fault, and boy of boy, does he have the whole perfection thing bad. Trying to live up to 'daddy's standards' has caused havoc in my life. But I'm older and wiser now and see a bigger picture. For a decade or so I blamed patriarchial society. And then I realised it didn't really matter how all this nonsense got into my head, heart and soul - it's not in control of me, I am in control of me. Right now, in this moment, I can do something to negate the nonsense.

And that's why I do what I do. That's why I'm sitting here, typing this, telling anyone who wants to listen that it's okay to be real, to be true, to make sense, to question the nonsense, to listen to our hearts and minds and souls, to beat back the nonsense with a huge stick, stand up for ourselves, notice and celebrate the imperfections in life because they are just as perfect as the perfections.

You know, it's not just home educators who fall prey to feeling inadequate and lost. One of the major oppositions to homeschooling is based on the fear that homeschoolers judge other parents as 'not good enough' because they don't, won't or can't homeschool. We are setting a benchmark for parenting that elevate us to elitist status - by default. It's not our intention, but our need to protect our desire to home educate means we proclaim loudly the benefits - the very real benefits - of homeschooling. And it's becoming obvious to many that we are telling the truth, homeschooling does work, it doesn't produce freaks or social misfits, it isn't just for the gifted and talented or school dropouts - it's works for any student any time.

Parents fear stuffing up their children's lives and opportunities almost as much as they fear losing their children. We seem genetically programmed to push our children to do better than we have done in life. I reckon this is a basic instinctive survival need. Some societies seem to have reached a happy plateau from which they seem content to reproduce what went before, because it worked. Others, like ours perhaps, still feel threatened (why) and keep pushing, developing technology, looking for... what? Because whatever we find or do it isn't good enough.

And that's how I feel every day. It's what drives me. It's what creates the insanity in my life too. I definitely don't want that for my children!

Learning naturally helps us shove a pause button into this madness. It says slow down, rethink that, is this really necessary, why are we doing this, why is it important, is it important?

Sometimes I do the culturally driven or meaningless activity. Sometimes I have to trust that it does have a purpose, as yet hidden to me. I can't work out what I need - I feel THAT disconnected from a natural, balanced and sane life. So I do things that don't make sense, or make immediate sense, and I don't have regrets. The best I can do is trust.

And this is what we can give to our children - what children need more than anything else and what they show us every day - what childhood is - Trust.

We need to trust that our children will grow as nature intended into strong, competent and responsible adults, given their basic survival needs are met. For too many generations this trust has been missing from family life.

Handing over all the big decisions to trust requires a commitment to faith. This is something else little children have in abundance, until we scare or disillusion it out of them. We have lots to learn about faith and trust from little children!

I am so lucky to have read John Holt when my eldest was four years old. And in the same year The Continuum Concept. Such radical thoughts on the role of trust in parenting (and education) began to answer one of the perplexing questions of my childhood and teenage years. It's taken me three decades to work out why Holt's and Leidloff's insistence on trust was pivotal.

One of the reasons I edited and published Michele Hasting's book The Homeschooling Trail - A Journey of Faith was because although we have different religious beliefs, her very clearly expressed feelings of inadequacy reflected my own. Her story - one year in their unschooling lives - is one of searching for and reaffirming faith, not only in unschooling, or her own parenting ability, but also in God. This is a wonderful story of learning to let go of the need to control and to trust. It's a hard and sometimes annoying journey and Michele doesn't miraculously find trust or faith or answers or solutions at the end, but you can see and feel her progress. That's the best that any of us can really do.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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I've been reading your stuff for maybe 8 years or more now.
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Welcome to the World of Home Education and
Learning without School!

We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.

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