Homeschool Idols

I’ve got a few homeschool idols.  I’m not proud of it. But I’m honest about it. And being honest with myself, I am hoping, will help me take those idols and throw ’em out the window.

(I’ve also learned there is word for that. Defenestration – the act of throwing a thing or especially a person out the window. I learned that from Latin. So if nothing else today, now you’ve learned a very useful new word!)

Maybe you’ve seen this great little article floating around Facebook land. It’s called “When Your Kids Wont Bow To Your Idols,” and is at JenniferPhillipsblog.com. Or, you could just click that handy link provided above. For any parent, new or old, homeschooling or not, I think this is a wonderful read. And the sooner we confront our personal parenting or homeschooling idols, the better life will be for everyone involved.

Jenny Phillips quotes Tim Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods, who says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

I will translate that into homeschoolese. “If I can accomplish that, or if I can get my kids to know and do this, then I’ll feel like I’m succeeding and my kids are learning and I’m rocking this homeschool thing. Then I will know all this hard work and somewhat controversial decision was right and is paying off. Then I will feel significant and secure.”

Without further ado, my three homeschool idols.

Idol 1: Getting Through All The Curriculum

You know, I figure the book makers put in all those lessons and chapters and optional reading assignments and projects and field trips into those lesson plans because each one of them is vital and necessary to the rearing, education, and therefore future success and overall happiness in the lives of my children.

Right?

Well, when you put it that way, no, not really. But, boy, do I worship that idol. I can hardly stand the thought of getting through the entire school year without having finished the math book. Or without having completed every grammar lesson and every Latin chapter and every biology unit. There is such a gratifying sense of completion at the end of the year when I can say, Wow! Look at all we did! See! We are successful!

But some things, maybe, are more important than stressing everyone, rushing everyone, and pushing everyone so hard to finish. I certainly believe in finishing what you’ve started, but there is a thing called “pacing” and my idol is going at MY pace, not my children’s pace. Or even rigidly sticking to the pace at the expense of other more fulfilling, worthwhile, and life enriching experiences.

Here is an example. Today my family and I drove through a beautiful canyon to get to my in-laws. Being October 1st, the fall colors are in all their glory. And let me tell you, those trees and mountainsides are really putting on a show! I have never seen fall like this in my entire life. I stepped onto my in-laws back deck and looked up the mountainside and it took away my breath. It was like staring into a garden of color; reds, oranges, purples, yellows, greens. Pure eye candy. I had this intense craving to just go up into those mountains and be in the middle of it all.

Too bad our schedule is so busy this week. And next. The whole month really. We already have a field trip planned (actually two, now that I think about it) and there are music lessons, 4h clubs, and scouts. Plus, I feel like we haven’t progressed very far in our history course this year, so I might need to take some extra time to catch up there, especially in order to be on track for that field trip – we’re still on Ancient Egypt, Hammurabi, and the Shang Dynasty, and I’ve just GOT to get us up to the Exodus so the kids can get the most out of the field trip. And in biology my 5th grader is learning about mitosis this week. That’s not easy stuff. We certainly don’t have time to just go off and play in the canyon.

So… do you see what I mean?

The problem is when I push so hard to “complete” their education for that year, I am depriving them (and me) of other worthwhile and enriching educational and life enhancing experiences. I keep thinking, “But if I stop or take a break, I’ll be a failure! We’ll all be failures!” We’ve got to be serious and academic and I’ve got to show and prove that we aren’t the kind of homeschoolers who just hang around in our pajamas all day long in a disaster of a house.

(I actually don’t know any homeschoolers like that either, but I DO know people who THINK homeschoolers are like that. I certainly don’t want to encourage their inaccurate prejudice against all of us.)

The solution? I’ve come up with a couple of ways to defenestrate this idol.

1: I’ve relaxed our schedule a little bit. My poor 5th grader was a little overworked and they entire family was feeling the effects of this stress. So he and I have decided that instead of 4 grammar lessons a week as suggested by the all-knowing trustworthy curriculum writers, he will only complete two lessons each week. Because I am the mom and he is the student and that is what we say is best for us! (Take that!)

2: Instead of pushing to complete an entire chapter in his Writing and Rhetoric book a week – which is becoming just more and more impossible for us to do if we want him to have even an hour of the day to himself – we are just going to steadily work through the book, 2 or 3 sections at a time. No weekly goal except steady progress. Said progress to be defined by myself and my son. (Take that!)

3: We are going into the canyon this week. And that’s all there is to it.

Idol 2: Kids Who Can Work Independently

You know what would make my life a whole lot easier?

If the kids could just do their schoolwork without me.

Yes, I know, I know. I’d be with them and help them when they had questions and occasionally look over their work. But they would just be so darn responsible and independent and pro-active in their education. It would be awesome! It would be mind blowing! It would be a miracle!

It would also deprive me of being with, teaching, and raising my children.

But oh, how liberating for ME!

This is a very ugly idol. And as a homeschool mother, who has willingly, purposefully, and passionately taken my children out of the public educational system and declared to myself, my family, and my friends (and officially to the school district on penalty of prison time) that I will be responsible for my children’s education, that I feel and know I can do a better job for them than the popular alternative, and that I am their mother and will not be replaced, this idol should have never crept into my house in the first place! How did it get here? How did I get to this point?

Well, as any homeschooling mother, like the one described above, will readily tell you, homeschooling is really, really hard sometimes, and really, really demanding. It is also so fun, so rewarding, so uplifting, and so strengthening.

But it’s also really hard.

It’s even harder when you have 5 children and one of them has just learned how to take off his own poopy diaper.

Sick!

I get very tired. I get very worn down. I get very annoyed at hearing my name called every 3 minutes. And then I get angry. And then, occasionally, somebody’s feelings get hurt and somebody cries. Or more often, they all just ignore my angry rants and go about their lives trying to ignore the crazy lady in the room who hasn’t even had time to take a shower yet.  Perhaps this scenario is becoming all too common. That’s not a good sign!

But if my kids could just work independently and be self motivated to always do their best, perform at their highest level even just for a few hours a day, and be happy and smiling and cheerful at the same time, THAT would make me a fabulous homeschool mom. Just look at what I had accomplished! I have trained them so well! I must be amazing!!

Yes, if only they were little robots that I could program to follow my every command…

But they aren’t. They are children. And focusing is sometimes really hard. And math assignments really actually aren’t fun, no matter how many times I tell the kids that they are.

No, they aren’t.

Except on very special days, then they are fun.

Like tessellations!

To take on the challenge of homeschooling – and the challenge of mothering – is to accept that little people and little bodies, who are new and imperfect, rough and unrefined, will need you and call to you for help.

Sometimes every 3 minutes. Or less.

And you, as mother and homeschooling mother, don’t have to be perfect. And it is ok to be tired and feel a little rough and unrefined sometimes, too. Even unshowered at 4:00 pm. That is actually ok. (As long as you don’t have to go anywhere in public.)

And frankly, it is not a bad thing that I want my children to be able to work independently and be pro-active and all those other things I mentioned. But the idol is my bad and selfish attitude about it all. So I’m going to call it by it’s ugly name.

I sometimes have a bad attitude. And I sometimes am selfish. And it is happening more and more often in my homeschool.

The solution? I don’t know, more Dr. Pepper?

Prayer. More prayer.

And you know what else. More faith. And more scripture study. And more humble worship. Less pride and more humility.

God is not an idle observer in our lives. He doesn’t send us to earth, say goodbye, and then move on to more important things. WE are the important things. As small and insignificant, as unworthy and frail and as flawed as I am, and as all powerful, all knowing, and all merciful as He is, I am important to Him. My children are important to Him. And in whatever way I am struggling, even if it is a bad attitude and a selfish nature that I am having a hard time turning around, He will help me if I come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

The key is to remember that in the moment of need.

But with God on my side, the chances for idol defenestration are excellent.

Idol 3: A Clean House

A fellow soccer mom at one of my 1st grader’s games found out I homeschool my children. Her first, and immediate, question was, “So is your house a complete mess?”

What? How offensive!

Just kidding. It’s actually sometimes true. (You might be fighting for the wrong team if the truth is offensive to you! Just saying.)

But actually my first thought was, “Is that what people think of us? Weird!”

You know, I would love to have a spotless house. I would love to have my baseboards cleaned. I would love to have a clean oven. I would love for the bathtub and showers and toilets to always be sparkling fresh. I would love for the furniture to be dusted and the floors to be mopped. I would love for my kids to naturally love to pick up their toys and make their beds and put their clean clothes away. I would also love if my 2 year old would stop drawing on every surface of the house.

That last one would REALLY make me happy! You can’t even imagine…

But because I’m just not very good at remembering to deep clean – and because I hate doing it – the deep cleaning just doesn’t get done very often. (ok, my friend found out I hadn’t cleaned my oven the entire time I had lived in this house – at that time 4 1/2 years!! so she actually came over and cleaned it for me!)

So we go with tidying up. Every morning my children must do their chores. And every morning I harp on them and remind them of what time it is and what time “school” starts and that things don’t put themselves away. And then I go downstairs and have to clean up a bunch of their stuff anyway because it is just too overwhelming for them to pick up after themselves.  But the house, for those 15 minutes before they trash the kitchen during breakfast and I let them loose again in the rest of the house – my house is spotlessly *ahem* tidy!

And yes, it ticks me off. Every morning. Because really, they should just do it themselves, already. If you have too many toys that you can’t possibly take responsibility for them, than you just have too many toys. (Except they don’t have too many toys, there are just 5 of them and we have a pretty small house. It all looks worse than it really is, right? Maybe. I suppose it could be worse.)

And that is one of my idols.

A clean house. School would just go so much better and learning and understanding would be so greatly enhanced if no toy or paper or book was EVER out of place. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Except when the stress and anger and frustration of achieveing cleanliness overwhelms and offends the Spirit of God, driving Him right out of house and out of your heart and the hearts of your children.

(Wait. That is what I was supposed to do to the idol.)

A clean house is a worthy goal. And it is not one to abandon. However, I tear up sometimes when I am reminded of the following quote from a Prophet of God, especially when I have fallen so far and forgotten:

“If you are still in the process of raising children, be aware that the tiny fingerprints that show up on almost every newly cleaned surface, the toys scattered about the house, the piles and piles of laundry to be tackled will disappear all too soon and that you will—to your surprise—miss them profoundly.” Full text found here.

For years, it felt like every single time I left the house with all my children, instead of hearing, “Boy! You sure have your hands full! *chuckle chuckle,*”  I heard “Enjoy them! Just treasure these moments and enjoy them! They will be gone before you know it.” And I always responded that I intended to.

And then I got grouchy about it. And what seemed impossible out of my reach, but what I was sure was going to solve all of my problems, became my idol.

The solution? If nothing else, maybe I could just commit the previous quote to memory… and then burst into tears every time I pick up the stuff that accumulates EVERYWHERE, but more out of love and tenderness than overwhelming frustration and anger like before.

(I’m not THAT bad, guys. But some days I am definitely more hostile towards the mess than others.)

Or the following is good, too.

“Babies Don’t Keep” by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullabye, rockabye, lullabye loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo

The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullabye, rockaby lullabye loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

I don’t actually plan on not picking up those toys and not doing the dishes. (Don’t worry, we are still going to pay our bills on time, and so far I am still pretty good about keeping the fridge relatively stocked.) And my children will still be required to do their chores and learn to take responsibility for their belongings. I am their mother and that is, indeed, my job; to raise the children in a way so that they will not drive their future college roommates to defenestrate themselves!! But I could be a little *cough cough* a lot kinder about it.

Heaven knows they aren’t learning their cleanliness habits from ME! My bedroom is an entirely different story… (actually it’s the exact same story)… oh what my husband puts up with in that room. There are just too many projects and no where else to put them! Plus for some reason I find it impossible to actually hang up my clean clothes. (So good at cleaning clothes, so bad at putting them away.)

So besides the gentle admonishment to be more kind, I could start by cleaning my room. By controlling my own mess. By taking more responsibility for my own things and being less surprised when others follow my less-than-stellar example of “cleanliness” – appropriately in quotes!

My first act in housecleaning is to throw out a few idols. And with this post, I have started to do that. Thank you for listening to me work through my weakness. Hopefully you don’t have any idols, but if you do, I hope you have been able to call them what they are and have made a plan to defenestrate them as soon as you can.

😉