Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Trying My Best at Parenting and Homeschooling

I have a few blog posts in draft that were not easy to write then never were published. So here is what I was trying to say. I'm just going to try to get it out, and however imperfect this post is, here it is.

I'm trying my best to raise my kids well. That's all I can claim that I know about parenting and homeschooling my kids.

I am not preaching on this blog. I am sharing information and stories. I hope the information helps you. I am not sure what value the stories are but hope they are not a waste of your time to read.

Some days I ask myself, "Who cares what I blog? Who actually is reading this?" Someone told me the only people who write about themselves must think they are a luminary. Do people think I think I'm some luminary? I don't think I'm a luminary. I'm just a mom who raised her kids with attachment parenting and I'm homeschooling them too.

I don't know why writing is viewed any differently than talking. To me writing is talking but in text not in auditory sounds. Writing is easy for me, easier than talking. Perhaps those who say negative things about people who write struggle to write and find talking easier. Would anyone criticize anyone for talking? "Who do they think they are to tell someone a story that happened to them? Do they think they are a luminary?" Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Why do people want writers to justify the fact that they write? I don't get it.

But back to parenting...

Years ago when I used to watch Oprah she said something to a Mom, "You do what you felt was best at the time and that's all you can do". There was some problem that happened, I don't recall what it was, but in 20/20 hindsight it was apparent that something should have happened differently to avoid the big bad thing. But the mother claimed she didn't feel there was any other option so whatever it was that the viewers wished never happened did happen. Oprah was trying to dig into the past to see what might have happened to make that thing happen or to see what didn't happen to stop that thing from happening.

Back when I used to volunteer with La Leche League to help mothers learn to breastfeed their babies and to mother them, while expressing happiness over breastfeeding a baby a mother would sometimes say she felt bad for not having breastfed an older child (or multiple older children). The word regret was incorrectly used by mothers. Regret is when there were two do-able options and you knowingly chose the worse one then later felt bad about having made that choice. Remorse is the right word that most should use, it means you now wish you'd done something differently if you had only known there was another way and that the option was something you could have done. It does no good to feel bad about not having done something that was not a choice for you anyway, even if the reason was just ignorance.

For example one mother I spoke with had a life threatening medical emergency after her first baby was delivered. She was bleeding out and nearly died. She had to have additional surgery and was not conscious for a couple of days, and was loaded up on strong drugs. The baby was put on formula and the bottle by the hospital staff. The mother lived and was healthy (Thank God!) but she was beating herself up over not breastfeeding. She was trying to get the baby back to the breast, it's not usually an easy process but it's something that some mothers want to try to do. I don't feel it does anyone any good to beat themselves up over past actions unless you really did have a choice and chose the worst thing of your own free will.

I mention regret and remorse and guilt because those are things that parents (probably more often, mothers) think about when they think about their parenting journey. Mothers can be very hard on themselves. The current psychology is so outcome based lately, the experts advise to do this and that and don't do that and that, and then your child will have that outcome. This is the case for both parenting a child and the education of a child. However since 99% of American kids attend school the responsibility of the education is taken away from the parent and put onto the school system.


Sometimes I feel like I should stop blogging. I sincerely hope that people don't think that I think I know it all about parenting or homeschooling. What really do I have to share that is of any worth?

I am just living and writing and publishing some of my writing here on the blog. If you think it's funny or entertaining to read what I say here, then good. Read on and laugh.

I don't think I'm funny much at all anymore. I was a funny kid. I laughed almost nonstop with my friends when I was growing up. I started losing my sense of humor when bad things started happening in my life. When I became a mother and things started going wrong I became even more serious. These were high stakes! I was responsible for a human life!

Later other challenges that adults face, like unemployment and moving long distance further put a damper on general enjoyment of life. In the trying times, I have a hard time even finding something funny to laugh at on most days. In the most stressful times I sometimes realized I was going days without even smiling. The stress of life sometimes squashes the ability to enjoy the good things happening on that same day.

I don't know it all and never pretended to. I know what I don't know and that's one of the things that make me a more serious person who has concerns and worries. I can see the possible negative consequences and I don't want to see them happen to my children. I want my kids to have options that I didn't have. Besides being raised in a loving home with open communication and without the fear of corporal punishment I want my kids to enjoy learning and to know how to think and communicate well, I want them decently educated and to not get turned off by learning thanks to the worst part of what happens to some students who attend school. So, not using school was a major decision we made early in our parenting journey.

Mothering has been the most rewarding thing I've ever done but it's also the most work of anything and it's been the most stressful also. How can it be all three of those things? It just is, for me at least.

Good mothers are not perfect people, there's a myth I'd like to bust. I think I'm a good mother. Yet, I am an imperfect human. I make mistakes. I am not a Stepford Wife, I'm not a June Cleaver. I have real emotions. I get annoyed. Especially as my children grew older I stopped always talking to them in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice. Although I don't use profanity regularly anymore I have slipped and let out a few curse words with my kids sometimes. Mothering has taught me patience but I am not a saint.

I have less patience for other people's kids. Even in my well-intentioned volunteer work I have been tested and tried while dealing with other people's kids and some of them have seen my imperfections and flaws. If there is one thing that kids know, it is that no adult is perfect. They know their own parents are not perfect, and neither is any adult they come in contact with. So when other people's kids see my imperfections they are not disappointed or surprised, they are used to imperfection.

I know when I've reached my limits and may be causing more harm than I am doing well. After the fourth year volunteering at Cub Scout day camp I realized I was burned out when I had no patience left for their nonsense and when I couldn't deal with the kids who were creating an unsafe environment for the good-behaving kids one day I lost it. Nearly all the volunteers yelled but I never did, until that day and I let them have it. I still wasn't as loud or demeaning as some others I'd been hearing rant and rave all week but for me it was an all-time low.

For the kids to have a better program I knew it would be my last year doing that particular volunteer job. I knew I would leave a void to be filled with some other parent. The problem was those parents were not volunteering as they were telling me that they felt you needed some special talent to handle the job, but it wasn't true. All the kids needed was a person who was fresh and un-jaded who had just a mild amount of enthusiasm.

My talents and energy could be used elsewhere in the Scouting program to do good for the boys in some other way, if the organization needed me and wanted my help. (They found something else for me to do immediately. It really is true when you close a door God opens a window of opportunity for something else.)

About homeschooling: my self-confidence is getting less and less the older my kids get and the closer they get to college. I am getting to a point where I realize my limitations and I want a certain good (better) outcome for my sons (than I think I can personally deliver). I'm trying to decide if certain changes will truly result in something better happening.

I have been thinking about enrolling my older son in public high school. I've been wondering if it would be better than homeschooling at this point. If putting him there will give me less stress than homeschooling does (good for me) but the program is not good enough then it's not worth the trade-off (could have some bad for him outcomes). Sometimes things that seem like a great thing bring unintended negative consequences. Then there is the question of asking if the devil I know is better than the devil I don't know. Anyhow with the medical treatments he's getting three times a week right now there is no way he could attend school this semester as he'd be out on medical leave with home tutors anyway! So apparently there really is not any decision to make. Homeschooling will continue, for this year at least.

I'm willing to put forth a certain amount of work and effort (which is not always joy-filled) if it means a better outcome for my kids. The outcomes I refer to are not necessarily huge things, they can be small things like thanks to homeschooling I was able to change my son's math curriculum so now he loves algebra and understand it easily. Another is that homeschooling allows us freedom with our schedule so that my son can get the medical treatment he needs. Another is letting a sick kid sleep until they are well rested instead of forcing them to get up to go to school while still sick so they don't miss another day.

The good things with homeschooling and parenting add up over time and make any of the hard parts of my parenting journey worth it. These things do not necessarily happen every day. The easy and the challenging moments don't always occur in paced out equal shares so that it is easy at the end of the day to say "two crappy things happened but two good things happened today so it's a wash" or "three bad things happened but four good things happened so I get to feel happy about the day, it was a success".

Two months ago I was wringing my hands with worry over quitting the online math class and feeling terribly that the supposedly fantastic program was not a good fit for my son when today I'm elated that the new one he started is resulting in real learning and enjoyment in the process. Now it seems silly that I had anxiety over making the change! Sometimes it is not until months later that we can give ourselves permission to let go of the worry or negative thing so we can let ourselves feel happy about the current good situation.

Sometimes I worry that my blog readers think I think I'm perfect. To further bust that myth here's some dirty laundry on me.

Ways that I'm an imperfect homeschool mom are:

I'm not confident about doing high school science with labs. I am trying to find options to help my son through this that do not rely just on me teaching him in the home.

I am not at all capable of teaching my kids a foreign language. We're getting down to the wire with procrastination getting us to the last minute. Last year's Rosetta Stone use was okay but this year the kids hate it and say they are learning little. In the fall of his grade ten year my son had better be taking a foreign language class: either at a community college or online. We have to make a decision and make some plans and just do it.

My kids read a lot more than studies say schooled kids read, and they read more than the high school syllabi list, but we may not be discussing it enough, and my ninth grader has not ever written an essay about a work of literature that he has read.

I could go on and on but won't.


Outcomes Depend on Strangers Too

Other times things are outside of my control and strangers contribute to my children not having optimal outcomes.

Right now I'm having a struggle over lacrosse for my younger son. When this situation is over maybe I'll blog it. I can tell it is developing into the type of juicy talk that moms share over coffee. I'd better not spill the story at this point since it is still in process. Maybe, just maybe, the outcome will be good.
My children's life experiences are not all in my control. I never thought they were, I just am trying to do my due diligence to help my kids do the things they want and do things that are good for them and to do what the parent is supposed to do. My own effort toward that goal does not always result in the good thing happening, but at least I'm trying to do what I think is best at the time.

Kid's Outcomes Depends on Them, Too

As kids grow up they should become more and more independent. It is right and best for parents to step back and let teens make more decisions for themselves.

Sometimes the teen makes a mistake that contributes to something not happening as planned or hoped. The teen needs to accept ownership for that. The parent has to let them make their mistakes sometimes.

Last year my older son wanted to rank up in Boy Scouting at a certain Court of Honor but he procrastinated about finishing two merit badges and he left them to the last minute. The merit badge counselor didn't show up at their planned meeting so finishing one badge on time was not possible. He pulled off the second but he needed both to rank up.

My son's error in judgment and choice to procrastinate meant his ranking up was put off for another six months. I was let down that the counselor failed to show up but I was not angry. Unlike some other parents who threw fits about the situation, I did not pitch a fit. Rather than focus on the adult's misstep that caused a less than optimal situation for the Scouts, I focused on my own son's personal responsibility error. I told my son the bottom line was the responsibility was his and that if he'd not waited until the last minute this would not have happened.

My son was disappointed but he survived. There was no huge negative consequence. It gave him another opportunity to learn to cope with negative emotions about something relatively small. That is good practice for when he needs to cope with a larger problem someday.

Some people have told me they don't like homeschooling parents because they are overly controlling and try to manipulate all the situations the child is in, in order to try to create a state of perfection for their child all the time. Parents cannot and should not control everything in the teen's life just to try to create an optimal outcome for the teen. Sometimes the teen can grow and develop only by taking responsibility for the process. They learn by doing the process. They do not learn anything by having perfect situations created by someone else delivered to them all ready for them to step into.

If a teen using their own judgment makes an error, they have to live with the outcome of their actions. Hopefully the stakes are not too high. They learn from their mistakes, but not always after making the mistake once. Sometimes they make the same mistakes over and over before they decide to change and do things a different way to try for a different outcome. I find myself biting my tongue and holding back from intervening to help my son not do that thing again. I am letting him stumble and sometimes fall. It's part of growing up.

Adversity is a normal part of life. Adversity builds character. You can't avoid all the adversity in life.


What I want to say to parents is you have a responsibility to try to do well by your kids. In this land of opportunity when we're not living in a third world country where life is not a literal day to day struggle for basic survival we feel pressure to create some kind of utopian childhood and to help our kids be the best they can be and arrive at the adulthood healthy and happy and ready for anything. I think that's a tall order.

Parenting is not typically all fun all day long. Parenting is not struggle free. There are good things to celebrate if you take time to notice that they happened and do not just look at what is going wrong or what is sub-optimal. It is normal for life to throw you problems and challenges in the midst of already being busy parenting your kids. We have no choice but to deal with whatever life has dealt us. It's too bad that sometimes dealing with regular life can keep us so busy that we can't notice something good happening right under our nose, or if we're under stress we can't even feel the happiness that we realize we should be able to feel when something good happens.

I don't know what it is about our society that makes parents feel we are never quite doing the parenting job well enough. If I could identify what the cause is then I'd call for parents everywhere to team up and work together to put a stop to it.

Active parenting is tiring. I can't do it all and neither can you. Sometimes I just don't have enough energy or time to do it all the way I think is right and best. I try. We shoot for the stars and if we hit the moon we'll be more than okay.

Someday soon my children will have flown the coop and I get to decide what I want to do with my life next. I'll have plenty of time on my hands, and probably less stress. Life will be easier. For now I truly am happy to have this responsibility and privilege, even though some days are tiring and life's not easy most days.


April said...

Hi Christine.
I love that you openly shared your struggles and fears, and I just want to say that as a 10-year homeschooling mom who HAS "put them in" for a year, I know some of how you feel. May I say that the year they were "in" PS was the WORST, most-depressed year of my life?

The reasons you cite regarding home education being BETTER are ALL valid. Hold onto the bit of control you have for doing what's BEST for your sons--you won't have ANY of that control if you send them to school.

Apparently the move this past year, plus the temporary home situation that remains has been terribly stressful for you. It's okay sometimes to just let them read and pursue "enriching"(aka, not video games)interests while you recharge for a few hours a week. Even high school! Your kids are old enough to lose themselves in their own "educational" interests a bit.

It is obvious that you are COMMITTED to your children. I commend you for being leaps and bounds beyond(way too many)other moms these days in that YOU WILL DO WHAT YOU MUST for good outcomes.

Around here, we work hard, pray hard, and ask God for the rest. He is the one who holds their futures in light, and He is the one who made these sweet, sassy, smart, and sometimes VERY difficult people(and their mom!). It will be good.

Bless you in your efforts. I have been praying for your family.

If you'd like a friendly ear, you can email me!


ChristineMM said...

Thank you April for your kind words and prayers! I really appreciate it.

elisabeth s. said...


I only just found you!! So screamed my mind when I read that you feel like you may stop blogging. I seem to be at the beginning of a road that you've traveled for years. After dismal educational results with my three children who are in their twenties, I have a second chance with my 4 yr, 3 yr and 2 yr old children and am seriously considering homeschooling. Your blog is helping to inform my decisions about homeschooling, gardening, and is even reigniting my passion for writing. I toy with the idea of blogging.
Whatever your decisions, please accept my thanks for acting as catalyst for my introspection and my resulting decisions.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Hi, there!
I loved this post, and would like to offer encouragement to you. You are doing such an important work as a mom, and also home-schooling!
My son is now 30 and just finishing his education degree with an intention to teach high school science. (He worked first in another field for quite a few years after two previous degrees).
I have worked in daycare for 26 years, and was often just so bone tired at the end of my days, and didn't always do a good job of parenting, and you have described the right word for this feeling I at times have - remorse, rather than regret. I was a single mom, and didn't always have the resources at hand, or know what best to do. However my son turned out fine, and he knows I loved him, and he loves me.
Just something for you to think of - your boys will always know your love for them is strong.
I feel for you at this time as you are thinking about public high school - you will make a good decision, I'm sure. My son did do very well in public school, but this was his nature, to like school - you know your son best, and what will be a good fit for him.
I believe schools are changing, I know here in Canada, when my son did his internship at an inner city high school, he described how the teachers were very fine people, and put the needs of the children uppermost, trying all ways to meet their needs.
I'm now 57, and still loving my work with preschool aged children at a daycare center (and some days still bone tired) :)
Good luck with your work, and wishing you happiness in your future.
Christine, you seem to have a wonderful gift for writing, and hopefully you will either continue this blog, or find another creative outlet.
BTW, I am learning that we need to write whatever we want, and that we won't please everyone all the time.

Suji said...

I read your blog often because I really like how you keep it real. I don't think everyone can do that.

"We shoot for the stars and if we hit the moon we'll be more than okay"...Well said. I think we'll be okay even if we hit only the space debris between the earth and the moon lol.

Take care!

sm said...

i found your blog years ago when searching for reasons HS-ers disappear in middle school / high school. your
post talked about the 2 faces people present about HSing (public: it's perfect! private: we're struggling) and that this dishonesty contributed to people giving up on HSing in the later grades. i found this post shortly after expressing discontent amongst my so-called support group (and their short and dismissive response was: unschool like us and ALL will be solved) and your words helped me NOT give up HSing :)
finding your curriculum-using family of children (who are close in age to my own) has been a better support system than anything i've found in my hometown. i don't comment often, but i read your every thought about parenting and HSing. so thank-you - truly - for the effort, the time, and the honesty

ChristineMM said...

Dear sm, Your comment really touched me. Thank you. I guess I won't stop blogging.