Homeschoolers: Are You Failing Your Children?

If you have a wild child, you don’t have a problem; you have a challenge, one that will cause you — as will as your child — to grow. Wild Child, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Whether you homeschool or not, when you have multiple children, it is all too easy to fall into comparing the “strengths” and “weaknesses” of one child against another. Sadly, over the years, we have seen one child within a family come out the loser in this comparison game.

Human beings are different.

Well, that’s an obvious statement, but it’s one we quickly forget in a society that extols commercial white bread and processed yellow cheese slices: we like homogeneity, or adherence to a standard of sameness, which is why, at county and state fairs, tomatoes are judged not based upon their taste, but in how similar three of them look to one another on a paper plate.

The Perfect Student

Within a homeschool environment — or actually, within any school environment — the child of choice is generally the quiet, complacent one who fills out workbook pages and doesn’t kick her (the paradigm of perfection is more often a girl than a boy) feet against the chair.

The difficult child, who in families with multiple children is generally not the first, but frequently the second, gets bored with writing between the lines, answering inane questions on topics like, “Talk about your favorite book and why it means so much to you,” and reading mind-numbingly boring  textbook paragraphs that the adults in the room, if they are honest with themselves, acknowledge as being insipid and unengaging.

Even the most angelic of cherubs can surprise us now and then; children are dynamic, engaging creatures. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

If the family doing the homeschooling is religious, the difficult child receives not only the appellation of problematic but the label of “rebellious,” because, for some reason, it’s incredibly important to too many religious people that their children be obedient, in a “Yes, Sir,” “No, Ma’am” sort of way.

More Thought, Less Obedience

This is sad, because our society is producing far too many complacent people, trained to work in cubicles and know just enough to do their job, but not so much that they question why things are done the way they are. Homeschoolers have the unprecedented — and decidedly not guaranteed — right to teach their children in an atmosphere that encourages questioning, analysis, research, study, and dissent, but they will waste this opportunity if they insist that the only good student in the room is the one who sits quietly, works through the flashcards, and methodically gets done with the day’s assignments.

There is much to be said for discipline, organization, and the ability to complete a task, but there is just as much, or more, to be said for someone who asks questions, rocks the boat a bit, and wants to know why things have to be done just this way. The difficult children, the rebellious ones because they don’t shut up and do what they’re told, are just as valuable as the organized ones.

Success, in today’s society, requires as much attitude as it does algebra. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

In a perfect world, one learns from the other, because we need discipline with energy, analysis with creativity, the willingness to complete a task along with the boldness to ask why the task needs to be done in the first place.

Each one of your children is uniquely different, and a wise parent sees them not as “good” or “bad,” “disciplined” or “rebellious,” “successful” or (a word that no child ever, ever deserves) a “failure.”

If there is any failure, it is on our part, in our inability to be imaginative and open enough to recognize that differences exist, and we can be part in drawing out the goodness of those differences, encouraging our children to grow into the full potential of what they are capable of being.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. A 20-year veteran homeschooler, I write about homeschooling on Thursdays. My book, Grammar Despair, is designed for people who teach writing, or want to write better themselves, but don’t want to mess with grammar.

Live Happily on Less is a series of essays about how to live well on a modest income which, if you are a homeschooler, you probably know quite a bit about. I’m betting that, if you take a chance on me, you’ll learn something well worth the purchase price. (Digital $5.99; paperback $12.99 or less)

Step by Step Watercolor Success is a digital DVD workshop by my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson, and is designed for beginning and intermediate watercolor students. You can see the promo video here.

If you’re a Christian, or interested in the subject, I write Commonsense Christianity at BeliefNet, focusing on . . . commonsense. As Christians, we’ve pretty much got the “innocent as doves” part down; we really need to work on the “wise as serpents” part. You can see an overview of my Christianity articles on my Contempo Christianity page.

This article has been linked to Small Footprint Family, The Mind to HomesteadThe Jenny EvolutionA Peek into my ParadiseChristian Mom BloggerEssential ThingsHappy and Blessed HomeGraced SimplicityKatherine’s CornerJenny MullinixLive Laugh RoweThriving ThursdaysMama BZZZSimply Helping HimRaising HomemakersHope in Every SeasonA Wise WomanA Little R and RWholehearted HomeDeep Roots at HomeTeaching What Is Good,


4 Responses

  1. I have one child with high functioning Autism symptoms. He is amazing intellectually but struggles socially and with all motor skills. He is two curriculum years ahead of his public school age and realistically could have gone another 2 years higher. By contrast the other child is about 6 months behind and will be starting curriculum one public school year behind. However, despite having a growth disorder that makes him the average size of a child 2 years younger, he is a motor machine and social guru. There is no physical obstacle he can’t overcome. He loves every single person he meets. He laughs and plays with his whole little being.

    Not comparing, not seeing that exactly what one lacks the other has in abundance is as impossible as not asking God, “Why?”. Often, I think my saving grace as a mother and teacher will be how different they are- trying to compare them would be like comparing apples and oranges. It’s others comparing them that I worry about. My father commenting on how the oldest could never throw like that. A sibling asking why the youngest can’t read yet… Or the all too obvious playtime issue of one all alone and the other the center of attention.

    I firmly believe God had a plan in giving us such different little boys- they needed each other. The boys may be opposites but they love each other dearly. Already the oldest gains as the youngest (often bodily) pulls him into social situations. I believe the youngest will gain equally when he starts school and his older brother can help him understand things in ways I can not. As long as we as parents foster a loving, faith filled relationship; I know- with God’s grace, they will pull each other up time and again through out their lives. All differences aside.

    I agree that comparing children with each other is a bad road to go down. I also think we need to ask why God gave he us the children he did- and more importantly, why he gave our children their siblings.

    … sorry to write a book on you, obviously your post touched a chord 😉

    1. Calyn — This is beautiful, and you are a wise person of grace, discernment, and understanding.

      Comparing our children, as you say, is to many degrees impossible not to do. It is what we do with that comparison, as you show through your beautiful words, that makes the difference. I ache for the child whose parents constantly make sly little remarks: “Oh, you know, there’s SOMEONE who doesn’t do very well at math,” or, “Obviously, SOMEONE can’t go on this field trip because he/she is so disorganized and unable to concentrate.” To have it hammered in, over and over and over again, that you’re just not good enough because — you can’t sit still? you objected to having your hair put in pigtails this morning when your sister willingly complied? you rolled your eyes at mom? — so often the “sins” are small, insignificant, and totally overblown.

      With a wise parent, like you, children do learn from one another as from their parents — and their parents learn from them. Many religious parents especially feel that they must be the authoritarian leaders, and while it is the child’s job to learn from them, it would be demeaning for them to learn anything from their child.

      I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. Your words are beautiful and I thank you for writing them (and no need to apologize for “writing a book” — you have much to say, and I’m glad you say it. I LOVE it when commenters take the time you did to express their thoughts and experiences so eloquently).

      I wish you and your beautiful family a time of love, laughter, and warmth in the Christmas season and beyond. — Carolyn

      1. Thank you very much for your kind reply, I was a little worried I’d imposed by writing too much. I am a private journal writer but my own blog is mostly just family and candid pictures of what we’ve been doing for our farther away family to see the boys grow up. I don’t often put a lot of what I am thinking out there for others to read. I loved your post though and, as I said, it touched a chord. I really wanted to respond and the response ran away with me a bit- lol. God bless you for your willingness to share your insight. To put yourself out there for others to find and connect to. I’ve came back a few times already and am adding your blog to my reading list, you have a wonderful way with words and your blog is so appropriately titled!

  2. There is such wisdom here! Comparisons are destructive mask our low self-esteems at the expense of others. Thanks so much for talking about this with such grace.
    Thanks for sharing at Essential Fridays.
    Have a blessed Christmas and New Year.
    Mel from Essential Thing Devotions

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