Posted on 2008-11-20 by Rachel DeMille
I’ve been asked by a lot of people, “How do you homeschool when your life is in chaos?”
Well first off, let’s be honest with each other. There are at least three types of chaos, and the How To is different for each one.
Chaos #1: I felt like I was supposed to show up at this party…but I have no idea what I’m doing, what I want, or what it’s supposed to look like.
Strangely enough, this is one that feels the biggest and constitutes the smallest actual problem. I have written specifically to such individuals at length here, with additional resources available for subscribers. If you like it, and want more of this kind of stuff, then consider this your teaser to get you to subscribe. I promise you, I’m going out of my way to give you your money’s worth. If I got paid by the hour…LOL.
But that’s truly not the point. You’d have to know me to know how much this endeavor is not about the money, so let me try to summarize for those who choose not to subscribe, for whatever reason.
To really organize this type of chaos is not as big a problem as it seems. Maybe it’s not easy, but it’s definitely simple. And if I’ve described that problem at all well, then I’ve also described the solution.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, or what you want, or what it’s supposed to look like, then all you need to do is educate yourself on what it’s supposed to look like, get clear on what you want, and then you’ll know what to do.
See? Like I said, it’s not necessarily easy, but it is simple. And you’ve come to the right place, because that’s what TJEdOnline is all about. I don’t want to tell you how to run your education and your family, (and I hope you would be leery of someone who actually would like to run your family for you…). But I can tell you from personal experience, and from my exposure to I-don’t-know-how-many other families I’ve seen, that when you know the principles, you can govern yourself. By the time you figure out the right questions to ask, you don’t need to look to someone else for answers.
So, what are the principles? Let me refer you to the free article “Intro to TJEd”. It offers a little introduction and then links to some other resources. The basics are there for everybody, and some of the second and third-tier links require subscriptions. But it’s enough to get you a great start. The bottom line is, your education is your own, and your family is your own. As my good friend Shanon says, “There ain’t no quick fix.”
The good news is, the principle-based way is a really satisfying and even exhilarating journey. I like to compare it to the difference between passing a kidney stone and having a baby. Both hurt, and one is basically pain with no gain. The other—you get a baby out of the deal!!! How cool is that?
I must interject (and in a blog you can be a little bit eccentric, so I hope you’re okay with this) that I used that analogy once with somebody, and she totally missed my meaning. She honestly preferred the kidney stone to the baby. …?????!!!??
But, back to our discussion. I really want to reassure you that no matter how insecure, out of sorts, frustrated or burned out you are feeling, it is a statistical improbability that you are the worst case that has ever come to TJEd looking for answers, and our success stories are many, many, many. Stick around, follow the advice on how to get yourself training, and allow yourself the luxury to get it right. You don’t have to rush into “progress” just to have to back up later because you compromised important ideals. You really do have time to get it right.
What would be the point of keeping an appointment with mediocrity anyway?
Okay, I want to move on to the next point.
Chaos #2: I know what I want, but I haven’t got my stuff together to make it happen.
This intermediate place is different than the previous. You have a basic commitment to the idea that in order to be an effective mentor, and in order for your children to desire a great education, it’s important that you lead out and make the personal effort to get a great education. "You, not Them", right? And you probably also get the “Inspire not Require”. But somewhere in those Seven Keys of Great Teaching you are cutting corners out of expediency.
There is a certain chaos in your life—a relationship, your finances, your health, your home systems, your time commitments, etc., that is robbing you of your peace and bleeding away energy and focus from the ideal you have in mind.
First, that ideal in your mind needs to be stared down and considered in a realistic light. You are clearly trying to achieve an ideal that does not acknowledge the Chaos Thing that you’re reckoning with. Is it a 500 pound gorilla in the room? Or is it a black cat—a paranoia with no substance?
500 pound gorilla:
See? When you go to the trouble to define the question or concern, you can suddenly start to work on solutions.
For example, if your husband’s not on board (or your wife—I’ve seen both ways) then the issue is not with education, or even with homeschool, per se; it’s a question of family government. I personally believe questions of family government trump questions of education.
I believe that no amount of history and art and writing and math can be of greater worth than the lessons we teach our children through learning to function as an executive unit, and in the broader scope, as a family. The Family Executive Committee should act with consensus.
I believe it is a better policy for a couple to agree upon a theoretically “less ideal” educational system and both support the child and each other in that process, than to have one spouse impose an "ideal" upon the child, the spouse and the family. The ends really don’t justify the means. That’s another date with mediocrity.
I’m not going to try to turn this into marriage counseling, so forgive me if you’re feeling left out in the cold on a really important issue. Hopefully, by defining the problem more accurately you are empowered to address it more effectively.
In any case, I was only trying to demonstrate the difference between a 500 lb. gorilla and a black cat in the room.
If your obligations won’t admit the schedule you’ve outlined, you need to redefine your ideal that acknowledges the substantive limitations, whatever they are. Change the obligations, change the schedule. Whatever--you in your Family Executive Committee can know which is the right course. In either case, this is the 500 lb gorilla, and you ignore it at your peril.
As for the black cat—unless it’s a really wicked cat, and not just a nice pussy cat who just happens to be scary-looking, (and assuming you’re not dangerously allergic), then you don’t want to waste your time governing your life with superstitions.
The only problem with that answer is that superstitions are often very deeply seated, emotionally speaking. To just say—“Oh, right. It’s just a cat. Nothing bad’s going to happen.” isn’t necessarily a fix for the problem.
But most superstitions can be overcome with acknowledgement and education. When you understand how it is that the sun goes dark during an eclipse, you don’t need to make up creation myths or sacrifice your hamster to appease the eclipse god. It’s just kind of cool.
This is a round-about way of saying: read the books, go to seminars, get on the YahooGroups, enroll in some sort of training that empowers you and helps you internalize the principles that you aren’t confident about. When you understand how and why it works, when you are exposed to examples of other mentors, parents, students and families that you can identify with who have overcome similar obstacles and concerns to have the kind of success you are envisioning for your family—well, it’s kind of cool. And it’s not any more scary than an eclipse.
Chaos #3: I know what I want, and an authentic crisis is derailing my best-laid plans.
Okay, now we’re dealing with the real stuff. I have a little bit of experience on this point. Without turning this into a memoir or a sob-story, let me just say that between an accident 7 years ago that left our 3-month old son permanently and severely disabled, a serious health breakdown after my last baby was born three years ago (from which I am still recovering), and my husband’s current endocrine failure which leaves him unable to work, I believe I can speak authoritatively on this subject. This particular gorilla is on steroids and weighs quite a bit more than 500 pounds.
But, the answer is simple, if not easy. Actually, it’s sort of the same answer. Accept that you have a gorilla in the room, and plan accordingly.
Throw out the ideal in your mind and start over from scratch. Get really clear on the things you value most, the things you’re willing to go into the fire to save no matter what else burns to ashes.
Once you know what those things are, you have a starting place. For some people, the dream of homeschool gets to burn in this scenario. For others, homeschool is the only way to safeguard the things they value most. Don’t fear the answer. Embrace it. You have to live with it, and it’s infinitely easier if you choose it rather than feel victimized by it.
It’s sort of liberating, in a way, when you say goodbye to all the quasi-important measuring sticks and use the only one you really, deeply, down-to-your-core, are not willing to compromise on. Turns out, by having that measuring stick right there in your hand, and having your plan be specifically designed to accomplish that measure of success at all cost—you now have a realistic and carefully-crafted plan to accomplish what you value most.
Bless that 2000 pound gorilla! How else would you have come to this place? You get to have what you want most, and all it cost you was sharing the room with a 2000 pound gorilla!
Remember, I know in my own way what the personal cost of accommodating a 1-ton gorilla is, so please don’t feel that I’m minimizing your pain, or your panic. I’m just saying that those feelings aren’t your enemy. Use them to grow beyond their power to hurt you.
Once you have a real plan, and you know what you want (since you can’t have the other ideal you were desperately and with futility holding on to) you can put everything in perspective. You can adjust your expectation for what a good day looks like, and you can actually grow quite content with the new reality.
Just a few short weeks ago I had to do just this. But when people call to check on me now, they’re constantly amazed at how “chipper” I sound. The fact is, I haven’t felt this successful as a wife, mom, student and mentor all at the same time in years! I had to redefine my expectations of success. But I’m not kidding when I say that somehow, our family devotional has never been more consistent or of better quality; we’ve never before had every one in the family more clear on their educational plan and goals, and more consistently progressing toward them, all at the same time. If you had told me four months ago what we would pass through to get to this place, I don’t know that I could have conceived of it. But that’s the truth.
There are some other things on the wish list that I’ve had to toss out of the shopping cart this trip. Too bad, so sad. I had my 15 minutes (I’m lying. It took longer than 15 minutes.) to grieve the changes I didn’t want to make, the things I’ve had to let go. But there are things in the cart I couldn't part with--not for anything!
I’m happy with the life we’re living right now, and I’m optimistic and even thrilled about the gifts that come with the trials. I’m almost to a place where I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t trade back if somebody gave me a chance. Intellectually I get it, and emotionally I’m not quite there, but almost.
Take heart! I really do believe that the universe is a friendly place, and all things will work together for our good. Hope this isn’t too heavy.
It's just that I’ve been asked this question so many times, in so many ways over the last while (and in light of the NY Times update that just arrived in my Inbox, LOL—not.), I think it’s important that we consider how to deal with serious challenges right now. If it doesn’t affect you in your home, you will certainly have occasion to support others who are feeling the pain of this uncertain time.
While you’re at it, go back and read, “Now What?” if you haven’t already. I am truly hopeful about this time! We were born for this!
If you liked this essay, you will probably enjoy this!