Friday, May 22, 2009

Staying Mentally Strong: # 3 Trust Yourself

"Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do."

- Benjamin Spock

What I realize now is that I was that I was the expert on my own children. Nothing could compare with all that I knew from living with them and mothering them as they grew up. I had a huge database of information: things they had said, disappointments, attitude problems, delights, playtime favorites, books they had loved, things they had wanted, and so forth. I also had a database full of my experiences as a mother and teacher: things that had or had not worked for us, techniques for instruction, and an understanding of how we learned best. Even our failures provided important feedback. The solving of any problem was the process of drawing up the relevant information and using it to analyze the current dilemma and then implementing, with a little trial and error, the solution.

For years, I did not know this.

I was always on the lookout for an expert who would give me the magic key that would open the door to the school I longed for -- you know, the one that has hardly any nagging problems because everyone is so happy and motivated and responsible. The mom I envisioned had plenty of time for everything because the school nearly ran itself. I found plenty of books, tapes, and teaching products that promised this to me. The pictures on them were appealing vignettes of smiling, clean children with their happy mothers -- both beaming and carefree as they looked joyfully over a book or worked together on a project. The homes in these pictures looked neat and tidy, every book in place, and nothing questionable on the floor. For a long time, I believed the myth that finding the right curriculum would transport us into this world.

I continued, for some time, to believe that perfect world was possible and that the only reason we didn't have it was that something was defective in me. Other homeschooling moms often perpetuated the myth, as they put their best foot forward and made it look easy. Sometimes they would point out to me that I needed to lower my standards or make my children do more chores or use a complete packaged curriculum (theirs) or throw up a work chart on the fridge. None of this helped. I kept searching for the answer. I tried a lot of different things.

What I didn't understand then was that the real answers were right in front of me. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I had been trying to find my way by seeking help from everyone else when the shoes that would take me home were already on my feet. I was wearing the answer to my prayers all along.

There was not one single problem in twenty years of being a homeschooling mother which could not be solved by observing, researching, remembering, pondering, and praying. The solutions were right in front of me all the time. I just needed to give myself time to work it out. I needed to trust my hunches, rely on my memory, and give myself space in which to think quietly and reflect. Then I needed "permission" to experiment a little. Once I did this, we began to deliberately build a life of joy and adventure that was larger than anything I had hoped for and more successful than anything I would have dared to attempt. Yes, it was hard work. Yes, there were struggles and discouragements. But it was inspiring, deep, lovely, and our very own.

Later, when I began counseling other homeschooling families, I watched dozens of mothers tell me exactly what was wrong in their homeschools but be unable to trust their own insights. Usually, when I asked them what they thought the real underlying issues were, their speculations were accurate assessments. Helping them grow the school of their dreams was often achieved by helping them trust their insights about their children and showing them how to use that insight to solve problems. Yes, they did need a selective portion of new information or perhaps some help in gaining a new perspective. But they had the answers with them all along. What they often lacked was confidence and the understanding of how to act on what they knew.

It was a revelation that I wasn't the only mother who stuggled in this way. I now believe that this issue is a common pitfall. Moms need the freedom to experiment. They need to rely on the database of insights and information they have gained over the years. They need to give themselves time to figure out what their kids need and how to make that happen in their homeschools.

Nobody on this planet can compete with what you know. Trust yourself.

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