I’m nothing if not persistent. When I set my mind to do something, I am tenacious about seeing it through from start to finish. I love checklists because crossing completed items off my to-do list gives me a sense of accomplishment. In fact, if I finish a task that was not on my list, sometimes I write it on after the fact just so I can check it off as completed. Even when I don’t have a written list of what I hope to accomplish for the day, I usually have at least a mental checklist to refer to as I go about my daily activities. When it came to homeschooling, my general approach was the same and I wanted to be able to check tasks off my list and see real evidence that I had been productive. Can you relate?
The problem I ran into was that there are so many aspects of homeschooling that are hard to measure objectively. How could I tell on a daily basis if I was effective in teaching my children in ways that they learned best? It takes a lot of experience and trial and error to see what works with each individual child. With the learning challenges my children dealt with, I couldn’t even guarantee that what they seemed to have mastered one day would still be mastered the next day or if I’d have to back up and re-teach material. Sometimes it seemed like we were just marking time – one step forward, one step back.
My checklist and plans for academic accomplishments were only one aspect of my goals for homeschooling my children. I wanted my children to grow in their love for each other and to develop a Christian worldview for themselves. Ultimately, their character was far more important to me than any school subject and I prayed for my children daily. Again my checklist mentality nagged at me. How could I document that the children were growing in character as well as knowledge? One minute I would be congratulating myself on my successful instruction as one child would show kindness toward the other, and the next minute I’m breaking up a fight between the formerly loving siblings. I’d think we had made progress when a child tearfully confessed to an infraction, only to see the same child hours later protesting by sticking her tongue forward with her lips still closed so that technically she wasn’t sticking her tongue out which was against the rules. So much for her having an attitude of respect, although her critical thinking skills appeared to be developing!
While I am persistent, I am not especially patient. Homeschooling was harder than working other jobs had been for me, because there were so many intangibles that I often was unable to grab on to any specific accomplishment to help me feel successful. Somehow, just surviving another day didn’t seem adequate. I wondered if I was omitting something vital in the content of my instruction or perhaps missing an aspect of my children’s learning disabilities that could hold them back if left unidentified. Having faith and trusting God are important to me, but certainly don’t come naturally. Homeschooling was like planting seeds and pulling weeds around the tender young plants, but not knowing when or what the future harvest might be.
My children, bless them, are resilient in spite of their mother’s ways. In one of my many attempts to figure out how best to help my son, Josh, I was explaining the latest theory I’d learned about and suggested that maybe it would help him if we tried it out. By this point, we had been homeschooling for years and Josh had been through many of my well-intentioned experiments to find ways to alleviate some of his learning challenges. Josh looked at me as I explained the latest and greatest educational approach and then slowly shook his head.
“Mom, are you still trying after all this time? I think after all the things we’ve tried you should know that I’m just the way I am. Regular stuff doesn’t work with me.”
Wow. Josh knew I was trying to help him, but he also knew when to say “enough is enough” and to accept his strengths and limitations as the person he was intended to be. It was tough for me, coming from my family of high academic achievers and my checklist mentality to realize that my son was on a different path. It also tested my stated belief that character was truly more important than academics. Our ultimate goal as homeschoolers is to raise our children to be the individuals God intended them to be, and sometimes that looks different than we may have imagined.
Today, as a young adult, my son’s character is evident and honestly he is farther along in that area than I was at his age. I am proud of him and his accomplishments, and although I’m still persistent and will offer him suggestions if I think they will be helpful for him, I also can accept him just the way he is even if nothing about his approach to learning ever changes. Am I still trying? Yes, and I probably always will be, because that’s just the way I am. Today, though, I am trying for greater acceptance, understanding, and appreciation of the unique contributions each of my children will make in their lives.