I was drowning. I needed help. My joy over homeschooling was robbed because I kept comparing myself to other homeschool moms.
My comparison battle
As a homeschool mom, I compared myself with other homeschool families. You know what I mean: reading levels and SAT scores of other children, classes or co-ops I was involved in, the latest scientific exploits of some other homeschooled genius, the bragging rights of how many things I was doing in addition to homeschool, my teaching methods versus those of the best teachers I had in school, and so forth. I was no longer treading water. I was drowning.
I whimpered when other homeschool students graduated and went to college; their moms were so proud. Would my children make it? I was envious of other families’ devotions that seemed so much more fun and organized than ours.
Was I doing enough? Was I doing it right? Was I giving my children the quality education I had received from some stellar teachers? Could I ever be as good at teaching as they had been? Did we attend as many exciting field trips as so-and-so had arranged for her children? Was I living up to the invisible standard of the homeschool mom I had heard about at conventions? We kept no farm animals, so how would my children ever learn responsibility? Did our school feel “official” enough?
I was one sick puppy, and that’s an insult to puppies everywhere.
One bleak night I confessed to my homeschool group just how inadequate I felt. I wished I could be a better teacher and reach my children’s hearts. I figured I was probably doing things wrong. The room got very quiet, and I thought I had shocked everyone by being too honest.
After the stunned silence, one mom said to me, “If you feel that way about your homeschooling, then we are all in the basement.”
It turns out that while I had been comparing myself to an invisible standard of excellence, this mom had been comparing her homeschool experience with mine. Funny thing, though; she was a very accomplished woman. She had started a small business and even read classics at night to her sons. Even so, she had felt compelled to compare herself with me.
Tara Bentley, a veteran homeschool mom who has just graduated her last child, used to compare herself with the health-food, home-arts moms but one day realized, “It’s ok to attend a homeschool picnic and bring McDonald’s take-out while sitting next to someone eating a sandwich made with homemade bread, with vegetables from their garden, in a lunch bag that they quilted themselves, drinking milk from their own herd of goats.”
I laughed out loud when I heard Tara say this. I had thrashed around in that whirlpool for a long time, but she had just put things into perspective for me.
Comparing is a nasty business. There can be only one of two outcomes: pride or depression.
So, what was the cure? More to the point, if I didn’t compare myself with someone else, how would I know what kind of job I was doing?
How did I stop comparing myself with other moms?
First, I threw out the idea of perfection. It simply is not possible, and it was killing my joy and robbing me of enjoying my children.
Second, instead of measuring myself against other moms, their homeschool accomplishments, their amazingly brainy children, or some ridiculous image of the perfect homeschool mom I had cooked up, I asked myself these questions:
- Are my children being cared for in a safe environment?
- Are they learning?
- Am I seeing progress in myself and in my children in areas that matter to me?
I tried not to aim for perfection but for progress. This gave me permission to relax, have some fun with my children, and be creative with our homeschool.
Third, I looked for moms whose work and teaching styles I respected, and I tried to emulate the good things I found there. How did they keep grades? How did they teach homeschool without driving all over town for classes? What was their advice on balancing being a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, and church member? This was not comparing; this was learning from a role model. My life was enriched through these women, and by learning from them, I found my own stride.
Am I a better teacher than I was last year? Am I able to reach my children’s hearts? Are we enjoying each other?
My three children are adults now; my youngest one graduated over a decade ago. Having adult children gives me a whole new set of homeschool comparison criteria: their jobs and lives, their children (my grandchildren—wanna see some sweet pictures?), what I’m doing with my life versus what other retired homeschool moms are doing, and so forth.
It’s tempting. It really is. Someone throw me a life jacket!
How do you avoid comparing yourself with other homeschool moms and teachers? Leave your comment below.
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