I am reading a book called ‘End the Struggle and Dance with Life: How to Build Yourself Up When the World Gets You Down’ by Susan Jeffers. I read this book years ago, but a friend of mine looked at my bookshelf for the first time this weekend and of all the books there, mentioned it. I felt that this was because I was meant to read it again. And I think it is great timing because I am finding living a bit counter-culture and having kids that are a bit different a bit wearing at the moment. Constantly swimming against Society’s current is very tiring, even if you know you are going in the right direction, the direction that leads to the truth, whilst they might well not be (or at least some could find happiness by changing direction and coming to swim with you!)
Despite this book having nothing obviously to do with homeschooling, a few things jumped out at me that seemed very relevant to the homeschooling journey. Jeffers previously wrote a bestseller called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’. In her next book, the one I’m reading ‘End the Struggle’, she titles a chapter, ‘Feel the Fear and DON’T do it anyway’. The fear she’s talking about is the fear of ‘not being enough’ which often results in workaholism; the fact that if we keep busy, keep doing, keep striving towards external goals, we don’t have to face gnawing doubts about whether we’re good enough (whether in our careers, as a wife, as a parent, as a friend, daughter etc…) She says, “To add insult to injury, despite all the hard work we do, we never feel ‘finished’. There is always something more that ‘needs’ to be done. Even when we are way ahead of schedule, we have the gnawing sense we are lagging behind or that we are missing opportunities that we should be creating or that we are not contacting people we should be contacting. Talk about stress!”
I feel that stress as a homeschooling Mum and I’d never considered it a kind of workaholism or perfectionism! I thought that I HAD to live with that kind of stress – I thought it was my job to be constantly worrying about whether my kids are doing OK (as per some kind of imaginary schedule/measurements). And my measures are pretty relaxed. I bet a lot of homeschoolers have kids who are well ahead of their national averages, or wherever else they want to measure their kids against, and still stress they’re doing a good enough job (I would like to argue whether this is a worthwhile thing to stress about, but I can’t talk if I share the stress, even if it’s comparing them to a different measure!) One of my daily worries is whether I’m not giving my kids enough opportunities or the right opportunities, whether in terms of classes or mentors. I am not a Mum who signs their kids up for a lot of classes. I think it’s important for my kids to stay at home learning how to manage their own time or spending time with friends, yet every class advertisement or schedule leads me to agonize about whether I’m right to pass up whatever skill or experience is being offered. I worry that this might be the kids’ ‘thing’ that I’m denying them. For instance, there’s a graffiti class that’s being offered (A graffiti class? That almost seems an oxymoron!) but I think it’s just for adults. Do I harangue them to get Edward included, even though it’s two 4 hour sessions (which I would have thought might be a bit long for an 8 year old)? Even if they accept him, do I sign him up for it even though he might find it stressful doing a class that’s geared towards (probably young) adults and for two long stretches? If I leave it, would Edward be missing out on a ‘chance of a lifetime’ because I really think this could be his ‘thing’ and he hates conventional classes that treat kids as kids! I mean – how often will graffiti classes be offered, in Dubai?! Was it ‘meant to be’ that I found out about it or it is a test of my resolve not to over schedule him to pass it up?
Jeffers says ‘Feel the fear and say no anyway’ because she says ‘…our motivation for doing most of the tasks brought before us has less to do with the tasks than it has to do with making ourselves feel more important or more secure or more wanted. Ouch!’ I agree, ‘Ouch!’ I think this is an important yardstick. When I consider these classes, are they just to make me feel more secure? I have to be careful but I think it’s a strong possibility. I was looking at a ‘Storytime’ class for my 4 year old. In the blurb it talks about the importance of reading, the importance of being read to. And I was seriously thinking of signing her up for this class? My house is packed with books! I read to her constantly throughout the day! Does she REALLY need to go to a ‘Storytime’ class?? I was thinking she might find it fun. Why?? I’m sure she’d much rather cuddle up and have a story with me, of her choice, than some stranger in a coffee shop! But my homeschooling insecurity was gnawing at me – that perhaps someone else could do a better job than me, perhaps she could meet more kids her age.
Fortunately, the idea of signing my kids up for a class to make me feel more important or wanted is anathema. But if you’re accelerating your kids academically or signing them up to lots of classes perhaps you want to check this isn’t your reason – that you want your kids to be a very impressive performing pony – ‘My kid is doing 2 digit multiplications at age 7’ or ‘My kid is a black belt in Karate AND is on the swim team AND is top of his cooking class. Here, I’ll let him show you…’ because that would NOT be a good reason to homeschool (let alone school) the way you do. So I will try to face my insecurities regarding these classes, feel the fear and say ‘no’ faster than I do. I usually do end up saying ‘no’. As I said, I don’t sign my kids up for many classes, but I agonize about it. I must try and say ‘no’ faster and head off my fear of not doing a good enough homeschooling job because living like this is very tiring which ultimately has a negative impact on me as a homeschooler because for sure, homeschoolers need lots of energy!
Jeffers (as I see it) has another golden nugget for homeschoolers. “If you are not enjoying yourself, you are wasting your time!” Wow! That goes right against the childhood ‘Protestant work ethic’ I was brought up with; the feeling that if you WERE enjoying something there must be something wrong with it. If you are enjoying what you’re doing, it must be either worthless or even wrong. If you are sitting down reading a good book, you are being lazy. It’s time to get up and get busy, busy, busy. I was brought up to do the opposite of what Jeffers advocates. I was brought up to feel, “There is always something more than ‘needs’ to be done.” But if you don’t just take time to enjoy life, to evaluate it, you keep running on a treadmill, dragging your kids behind you, to an always- future destination called ‘Success’. Life before you know it will be over and you won’t have even had time to enjoy your children. I agree with Jeffers, you can have a wonderfully productive life – that you enjoy. Measuring how much you enjoy something IS a worthwhile measure for whether you should do it or not. There are various ways I can homeschool, but finding one I enjoy, as well as that the kids enjoy of course, IS a way of choosing the right one for us. So far, taking the unschooling route, has been wonderfully enjoyable. But I’ve also found doing more ‘book learning’ and even ‘worksheets’ as the weather has got hotter has been fun too and maybe that’s as good a measure of whether it’s the right approach for us as any – that the kids are learning and we’re enjoying it.
The last point I want to share from Jeffers’s book is “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly”. Jeffers is apparently quoting Linda Weltner’s motto. I love this. I take this to mean that anything worth doing is worth having a go at, without fear of making a fool of yourself or even fearing failure. JUST DO IT! There are so many wannabe homeschoolers out there, even wannabe unschoolers. If you think homeschooling or unschooling MIGHT be worth doing, just have a go, even if it doesn’t turn out quite the way you’d envisioned it. I’m sure it will always be worth having a go. I haven’t met a single person who’s regretted homeschooling, even if they only did it for a while. Maybe your homeschooling/unschooling adventure will start off ‘badly’ but I’m sure it will end up great, even if you don’t decide to do it forever. Maybe it will look to others that you’re doing it badly but actually, in your heart, you know that although it looks disorganized (books lie around everywhere or the kids get up later than you’d hoped or you miss some ‘school’ days to take interesting trips) everyone’s having fun and learning (including you!) and this is the measure of success. I’m sure you will end up doing something worth doing AND doing it well especially if you do it with love in your heart, with the best of intentions and listening to the voice of your ‘Higher’ not ‘Lower’ Self! Jeffers says, “And, remember, if someone points out your “ineptness” in any given endeavor, simply say, “I’m doing good enough”, and then go on to have the best time you ever had! ENJOY! ENJOY! ENJOY!”
IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLING MIDDLE EAST, welcome! If you are interested in reading about our homeschooling adventure, I recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this adventure into homeschooling has been a rollercoaster; philosophically and emotionally, which you might learn, seek solace from or even be thoroughly entertained by. It started in Bahrain on 22 February 2012 and continues in Dubai. My kids are Edward aged 8 and Petra aged 4. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience we share, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you!
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