4 Strategies to Help When You Start Feeling Like You’re Not Smart Enough to Homeschool
Because you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, you’re really doing this whole homeschool thing just fine
When Julie* watched her always homeschooled daughter walk across the stage at her college graduation, she thought she’d never felt prouder. But underneath that, she felt something else—a familiar, buzzing nervousness that had nagged at her since the moment she’d decided to start homeschooling Anna and that had persisted even as Anna proved to be a curious, eager learner, even as she’d done well on her SAT and gotten accepted to her first-choice college with an academic scholarship. It was the feeling that someone was going to notice that Julie had screwed the whole thing up somewhere.
“I think part of me is always waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Julie says. “I’m waiting for someone to say, ‘Oh, sorry, excuse me, but you completely failed at homeschooling, and we’re actually going to have to take that diploma back. Sorry you ruined your daughter’s life!’ It’s crazy because clearly homeschooling was successful for us. But it’s hard for me to recognize that even now.”
Does that fear sound a little too familiar? The fact is, feeling like we’re constantly on the verge of completely failing our children can be just as much a part of the homeschool experience as baking soda volcanoes or carschooling. Almost all of us have heard—at least at one time or another—that voice whispering in the back of your head: You barely made it out of high school—what on earth qualifies you to teach another human being? What if my child still hasn’t learned to read by high school? How am I ever going to teach someone everything she needs to know to have a successful life? These are the kind of questions that keep you up at night.
In fact Julie’s experience—the feeling that despite your accomplishments and success, you’re always on the verge of being recognized as a failure—is so common that it has a name: Imposter Syndrome. And while homeschoolers—especially women homeschoolers—may be prone to Imposter Syndrome, it doesn’t have to leave us feeling like we aren’t smart enough to homeschool. Getting past Imposter Syndrome requires you to recognize all the ways that you actually are good enough/smart enough/capable enough, but that’s a process that takes time and patience. So while you’re working on breaking down your deep-seated insecurities, these strategies can help you cope with Imposter Syndrome when it rears its ugly head right now:
1. Focus on one thing at a time. People with Imposter Syndrome tend to grade themselves based on an impossible to-do list: Even when we do something great, our attention immediately shifts to focus on ten other things that we aren’t doing great (or that we haven’t gotten around to doing at all yet). This can be especially true for activities like homeschooling, where there aren’t clear measures for success—so there’s always somewhere we seem to be coming up short. Instead of focusing on that endless checklist, force yourself to hone in on one thing you’re doing really well.
Try this: Figure out three big, important goals for your homeschool this year, and keep your attention focused on how well you're moving toward accomplishing those three things. If you get distracted by something that isn't on your goal list, let it go—or, if it feels really important, drop one of your other goals to incorporate it. (Give yourself permission to make a goal change once a year so that you're not resetting your goal posts constantly.)
2. Accept a compliment. Why are we always deflecting praise when it comes to us? When someone says “Your son is doing awesome in math,” it’s so easy to push back with “I wish he were doing so well in reading” or “No thanks to me!” By doing this, we reject the compliment and internalize insecurity. Not a great combo, right?
Try this: Next time someone compliments your homeschooling, repeat the compliment to yourself, nod to reinforce the positive feedback, and say “Thanks.”
3. Just stop talking. One tendency of people with Imposter Syndrome is to explain away our achievements. When you feel like a perpetual failure, highlighting all the reasons your great achievements aren’t so great ("It's just the curriculum," "Well, it's taken us three and a half years to do it," "It was actually really simple") helps you ease the discomfort of being recognized for your hard work. By minimizing what you’ve achieved, you’re also minimizing other people’s expectations of you—and your confidence in your own achievements.
Try this: When another homeschool parent seeks your input on something she thinks you're doing particularly well, fight the urge to explain away your achievement. Instead say, "Thanks, I've worked hard on that."
Stop giving the credit to luck. You work hard. You think about what you’re doing. Sure, there are moments where serendipity strikes your homeschool and things just seem to come together, but usually, those moments are the culmination of a lot of effort and patience on your part. You aren’t “lucky” that your home- school is going well—you’ve done the work, and you earned those great moments. Appreciate your role in your own success.
Try this: When you have a breakthrough moment in your homeschool, mentally give yourself a pat on the back and remind yourself that you've worked hard to create the conditions for that breakthrough to happen.
This list is excerpted from an article in the summer 2017 issue of HSL. You can read more about what contributes to feelings of imposter syndrome, how to recognize it in yourself, and how to effectively combat it long-term in that issue.
* last names omitted for online publication