I have experienced success in several realms in my life. I was a successful student throughout my formal education. I have been married for 30 years and my husband and I raised three children and a plethora of family pets together. All three of my children were homeschooled through high school, which was a huge accomplishment for all of us. As a matter of fact, I had met most of my life goals by the time I turned 30 years old so I proceeded to set some more goals in case I lived a long life.
Actually, I just hate failure and have such an aversion to it I set goals for myself that I am confident I can achieve and the reasonableness of my goals increases my likelihood of success. I experience much satisfaction when I feel that I’ve accomplished the tasks I’ve set out to do. That’s why I really like checklists, because marking items off the list gives me a tangible feeling of productivity. In truth, there are many times that I will add things to my “To Do” list that I have already completed just for the satisfaction of checking them off the list.
Perhaps another reason I got pleasure out of completing the small, daily tasks on my checklist is because homeschooling was not always meeting that need for me. School, it seemed, was never over. Even when the academic work for the day was finished there were many other areas in which my children needed instruction. I craved a sense of accomplishment and proof that goals had been met. In light of this, during much of the homeschooling time our actual accomplishments were nebulous. I knew the kids and I were putting in the time and effort, but where were the definitive results? The days flowed into each other and I didn’t have precise evidence that adequate progress was being made in a linear, recognizable, objective, and measurable way.
Some homeschoolers are just able to sense that progress is being made, and that impression gives them all the reassurance that they need. They know they are doing the right things, are on track, and will ultimately finish the course they have set. I personally have never been very intuitive when it comes to homeschooling, and my analytical thinking patterns often led me to fear I had failed my children. I worried I hadn’t covered enough material in a given subject area, or that I had spent too much time on certain topics and not enough on others. Was I teaching at the right grade level? Was I using the best curriculum? Was I pacing the schedule to meet the individual needs of my struggling learners as well as my typically developing child?
If the answer to any of those questions was negative, I felt like a failure. Even if I was on target for 9 out of 10 areas, that one missing or lacking aspect to our homeschooling left me feeling inadequate for the huge responsibility of educating my children. It’s hard when other people question your decision to homeschool, and even harder when you question yourself without a liberal dose of grace.
There is no perfect homeschool family. Even the most successful homeschoolers have to work with occasional if not frequent obstacles and circumstances that are not ideal. At various times throughout my homeschooling years I met people who would comment that they didn’t know how I managed to do all the things I accomplished. I remember thinking that others probably were doing a better job of homeschooling than I was, and my thoughts would return to my perceived deficits as an educator. Ironically, those intended compliments left me feeling even more like a failure because I knew how much more I had hoped to achieve with my children.
I eventually had the insight that others might be doing the exact same things I did each day, but instead of feeling inadequate they experienced contentment. These people knew how to take a long view with their homeschooling and focused more on what was going right in their homeschool than the areas in need of improvement. Surprisingly, some people seemed impressed by what I was accomplishing despite having children with AD/HD, sensory processing challenges, and auditory processing difficulties. I homeschooled for years before it occurred to me that it was okay to acknowledge that teaching struggling learners was harder than average and to give myself credit for any and all progress made. In our family, homeschool successes were hard-won and worthy of celebration. So I learned to celebrate instead of commiserate.
I can’t honestly say that I never doubted myself again, or that I always noticed and appreciated the gains made during our homeschool time. I invested my life in my children, so when they weren’t successful I felt that disappointment on a heart level. I had to learn, alongside my children, that setbacks do not make one a failure. It was easier to admonish my children not to focus on disappointments than it was for me to follow my own advice, but with determination and practice we all learned that failing at a task does not make the whole person a failure. Neither does feeling like a failure make it true that you are one.