Homeschooling Through the 'Bad' Days
© Beverley Paine, July 2006
"On the days when my children are fighting I don;t even enjoy spending time with them."
Another myth about motherhood that ticks me off! Just because they are our children doesn't mean to say we're compatible human beings!!! It's okay to have personality clashes within families that naturally give rise to conflict. Most of us forget to treat family members like we would friends or co-workers. That cuts both ways - few children are as considerate toward their siblings or parents as they are their best friends! Most of us expect that we'll be simply, easily and naturally forgiven for our transgressions without the need for sincere apologies. Most of us think that love is enough. It aunt. Well, it is to start with, but love needs to be unconditional, for the whole journey of parenthood. And because we're naturally 'flawed' - we have strengths AND limitations - there is no way we are able to offer unconditional love to our kids all the time. Heck, most of us have never experienced unconditional love for ourselves - that makes giving especially hard.
There is no reasonable reason on this planet why anyone would enjoy spending time with people who are fighting. That doesn't make sense. A dose of reality is needed to remedy this situation! Don't expect to enjoy your children 100% of the time. It's not humanly possible. It's okay not to like them all the time. Don't feel guilty for being human. Love isn't the same as liking. And then there is this thing I call 'sense of duty'. As a parent I feel a sense of duty to provide my children with what they need to survive and thrive (in a basic sense only). I feel the same way about being a child, especially of aging parents. A sense of familial obligation ensures I do my 'duty' - the rest is voluntary. I choose to give and receive unconditional or conditional love.
This may seem rather harsh and not very attachment parenting oriented but without taking this stance the teenage years in this family would have been unbearable and I wouldn't feel so confident of respectful relationships with my offspring through the years ahead. There is no doubt I totally love and adore my kids. I hate myself with a vengeance when I am angry at them, even if they've trodden all over my space and feelings. I forgive myself for being angry at myself and try not to justify it by blaming anyone, even myself and especially not them (I'm not very good at the not-blaming game either, so I have to forgive myself for blaming as well!). What I generally try to do is work out what is happening and how we can avoid getting into this mess again. Everyone thinks I analyse too much, but the problem solving process really has helped move us forward from raucous and seemingly uncontrollable and inevitable conflict.
Nearly all of the conflicts in our family stem from communication issues. We mis-communicate all the time. The reason for this is we are all too quick to make assumptions. I've grown children and we've been working on this problem all their lives and we're far from perfect yet. I expect it will take another forty or fifty years before we iron out all the bad habits!
One trick that has helped is to PAUSE. That old saying that we need to stop and take ten deep breaths is a good idea. I don't do it - not yet, but the principle is sound. Take a step back. Don't rush in. Don't say what's on the tip of your tongue. Wait. Give everyone a chance to really mess up before you jump into scold, rescue, blame, berate, help, put the words they're searching for into their mouths, etc. Short cuts usually mean we have to take the long road eventually...
We're in too much of a hurry to get life perfect. What we need to do is give up notions of perfection and settle for a messy, imperfect life. Develop a sense of humour about mess. Confession time - I gave up housework because I couldn't do housework, dieting, homeschooling and the zillion other things that I need to do to feel okay about myself each day... Some folk believe that if you don't have a fridge and you don't do the dishes every day you'll pick up some nasty stomach bug and die. We're still alive after 18 years... The house isn't a dump, but it's not clean, not by my parent's standards anyway. Some mums need to do housework to stay sane. I need to write. You have to do what you have to do to stay sane. Don't apologise for that.
I know how hard it is not having perfect kids, especially when I speak at conferences and workshops about homeschooling. It's like my children have to be pin-ups, role models, nice, respectful, hard working, cooperative, blah blah blah ALL THE TIME. I feel under tremendous pressure to bury the skeletons under ten tons of concrete, not just hide them in the closet!! I know that if I give any hint that my kids haven't turned out 'okay' the anti-homeschooling pundits will pounce and proclaim that "see, homeschooling doesn't work after all". But what is 'okay'? What do we mean and how do we really want our kids to turn out? I certainly don't want them to feel under obligation to get straight As in all their subjects at year 12 level, or to impress the local citizenry with their skills and talents or whiz-bang personalities. I want them to have decent relationships based on mutual respect and real tolerance (respect for diversity), abide by sane laws (not all laws are sane), do work that is meaningful and satisfying to them and gives something back to the community of humanity. To achieve this all I need to do is set an example they can emulate. Oh boy, that's hard!!
So, if my children are fighting, I look to my own life. How can I reduce the stress in my life? I quickly come back to the basics. I need more sleep. I need to introduce a rest period - doesn't need to be anything specific, just a time I put away all the 'have tos' and 'shoulds' and do nothing that needs to be done, except perhaps, enjoy the moment... I need to eat well. Time for some raw veggie juice to heal and reinvigorate my stressed body, or maybe cut out the foods which I know tire me. I generally need to deschool myself some more (after 20 years of homeschooling I STILL need to deschool myself some more!!!). Time out. The garden is a great place for me and I used to drag the kids out there as much as possible - too much time inside generally leads to friction and conflict. Fresh air is a basic daily need for human bodies.
When I took time out to take care of myself my children magically stopped fighting. Taking care of myself usually meant I automatically had more time to play with or sit beside and watch my children play. I had time to talk with them - not to them or at them, but with them. That's another myth about parenting. It's really, really hard to have genuine conversations with children. It's like they come from another planet or are another species. It's like when you can't get a dog to stop barking when it's happy to see you - ultimately you end up chastising it. If only we knew the language or were remotely interested in whatever it is the dog is saying! It's really hard to tune into and be attentive to what our children want to talk to us about. And playing with them - wow, that's a LOT harder! I used to cheat and simply watch, or make props, sort LEGO. The best I could do was play card, board and dice games for an hour or two at a time. And my kids loved my giving them this time - it's as if they actually wanted me to be a best friend, rather than 'mum' all the time.
"I didn't think burn out would descend so quickly, particularly when I am doing so little for my children."
Aha! Another myth uncovered. It's okay to be mum and nothing else but mum. The friendship I talked about in the above paragraph comes in good time when we realise that being mum is enough. What does it mean to be mum and only mum? Cover the basics. The sense of duty to care for your children and help them learn to survive and thrive - in a basic way. The rest they can take care of themselves. If they need help they'll ask for it. Trust me - it really works. If you don't do this you'll end up doing more for your kids than they need and they'll come to depend on you too much (and not build the abilities they need to develop healthy self-esteems). Or worse, you'll undermine their self esteem the same way schools do, but telling them that their way isn't good enough and that it's best to rely on experts, like us more experienced older folk... Be a mum and forget about being a teacher. Homeschooling works just as well that way. (Continue to record activities and outcomes, like a teacher would, just forget about the teaching part for a while. You'll be surprised at how much of the 'curriculum' is covered just by simply living in a busy household!)
Or forget about being the mum you want to be and accept that you are the mum you are, warts and all. I was chronically unwell throughout my children's childhood and it sucked big time, for all of us. Depression was a huge blight on our lives. We're not a dysfunctional family but we definitely have more than our fair share of dysfunctional moments. I'd do homeschooling so differently in a flash if I could go back and wave a magic wand and be a different Beverley... However, the horribly flawed mess I made, in which we lived and struggled to make sense of, produced three 'okay' people, the kind everyone seems happy to meet. They are not a bunch of geniuses and they disappoint my parents but I reckon they are the bees-knees. And they totally forgive me for being an imperfect and loopy parent.
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