Remember that old adage, comparison is the thief of joy? We’ve all heard it. Heck, we may have even used that line on our own children at time or two.
Yet, have you ever thought to yourself in regards to homeschooling: Am I doing enough? Are my kids going to be okay? Have you ever heard an offhand comment by a schooled friend, or even another homeschooler, and thought to yourself: Oh my goodness, my child hasn’t learned that! I am not doing enough! I’m betting you have had those thoughts; I’ve been around the block enough to know that most homeschoolers feel like that at one time or another.
The why is obvious when we stop and think about it: we are so in the thick of it. We are so daily confronted, obviously and nakedly, by a struggling reader or a child who has yet to grasp simple algebra. And when the fear and self-doubt start to seep in, it’s easy to ask ourselves, and really mean it: Can I fix this? Am I up to this task?
And then, accompanying those nagging fears, are those Neighbor McPerfect types. Their children all play soccer, receive perfect grades, and every one of those little buggars takes part in academic summer enrichment activities; and no one at their house seems much worried about hitting certain benchmarks by a certain time because they all surpassed the benchmarks earlier than anyone else in their class. Their children are all college bound, not because its where they necessarily belong, but because it is the next rung on the ladder of how to do life. There is a neat, tidy bow wrapped so perfectly around their lives that it almost makes you want to weep with feelings of inadequacy.
Yes, ’tis true, comparison is the thief of joy.
Take a breath and pause for a minute. Why do you homeschool? Take some time— a lot of it if it’s needed— and remind yourself what you’re about.
Of course our homeschooled kids aren’t exact replicas of their schooled peers. Call me crazy, but isn’t that pretty much exactly why we do this? In all honestly, if we cared about following the traditional formula of doing life right, our kids wouldn’t have come home from a traditional school in the first place. No, they’d be in school. Where, I might add, our struggling reader would still be struggling to read, but instead of receiving one-on-one, positive attention in a place where it’s safe to fail, she would likely struggle to hide her perceived inadequacies from her peers.
That kid that just isn’t getting algebra? They’d not be understanding it in school either, and unlike at school, at home you have the option to change the approach you’re using, or buy a different curriculum. You can even shut the algebra book for a bit knowing that when you come back to it, your child’s brain will likely be ready to make sense of what was confusing before.
So why do we compare ourselves (or, let’s be honest, our kids) to our (their) peers? Why do we let ourselves feel so very badly that the very outcomes we wanted (independent thinkers! individualized learning!) are the outcomes we get?
The reality is we all maybe kind of want to parent that child that wins the national spelling bee. That child so very obviously excels at something, and it is so easy to defend homeschooling and demonstrate its efficacy. But the child who struggles to read in third grade? Has homeschooling failed her? On our worst days we maybe kind of believe that it might have.
What if though, instead of examining the minutia of our homeschooling successes and failures, we instead examined what we are all climbing toward? Schools don’t have a monopoly on getting it right. So what if your local public school requires memorization of multiplication factors in third grade? If your gaze is focused on your academic end goals, you might more clearly see that a love of math is more important long term to the child you see mathematical promise in than getting those times tables memorized at the assigned time. A focus that has its sites set on the academic finish line might more clearly see the value in a child forgetting to do her geometry lesson because she was so wrapped up with her charcoal pencils and her sketchbook. Why is it worse to learn basic geography solely through computer games while never picking up a geography text? Is the knowledge less real because it wasn’t absorbed through textbook and lecture?
It’s not that the way schools do things is necessarily wrong. For many kids those ways work well, and we, like so many of you, do use a lot of traditional things in our homeschool. But my point is this: please don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in the mire. Every parent experiences self-doubt when it comes to their kids, even the ones who are doing it the traditional way. Second-guessing ourselves just means we care about the outcome; it doesn’t validate our doubts.
If you simply must compare a child to someone, compare him against himself. Can he do more today than he could yesterday? Is she an inquisitive soul who last year knew more than you ever imagined a person could know about every dog breed on the planet, and yet continues to learn more in her free time? Can your struggling reader read more today than yesterday? When comparing by those metrics, which are the only ones that matter, there is no joy stealing from the comparison. In fact, I would wager that by those measurements, your child looks pretty darn good, just as they ought.
Comparison can be the thief of joy. . . but only if you let it. I hope you won’t.
CATE OLSON is a former political hack and freelance writer turned homeschool mom. She lives with her husband and their four kids in Milwaukee.