My Blog = My Life + weekend

Child Trophies

If there's one thing I've observed in 13 years of being homeschooled and now as a second-generation homeschooling mom, it's that home educators seem particularly susceptible to turning their children into trophies of achievement. This is not an argument against homeschooling (I sing its praises all the time!), but rather, a reminder (mostly to myself) to guard against the temptation to show off our children in an attempt to prove our "greatness" as a teacher.

John S.C. Abbot in his excellent book, The Mother At Home, records the response of a preacher after being highly commended by one of his parishioners following a sermon:
"Be careful, my friend," said the clergyman, "I carry a tinder-box in my bosom."If a great man of God so easily admits his propensity to an inflamed ego, how much more dangerous do we make things for ourselves and our children when we place them in situations where they're sure to be flattered?

The reason I think homeschoolers are prone to this is because many times as both mothers and teachers, we feel as though we need to prove our worth. It's worse if you *gasp* don't happen to have a teaching degree. We want to prove to our parents that our children are indeed learning to read (and quite well by age 4), to the local school-board that their education is not sub-standard ("See? Our daughter's GPA is a 4.0. I've kept records!"), and to skeptical church members that they are well socialized ("Oh, you tried to call this week? Sorry I missed it! We had soccer on Monday, music lessons on Tuesday, volunteered in the soup kitchen on Wednesday, dinner guests on Thursday, etc., etc.")

Now, there's nothing wrong with Grandma delighting in her grandchild learning to read, but turning our children into exhibitions is unhealthy for everyone involved.

First, it hurts children - yours and others. Our efforts to raise our children with a spirit of humility quickly become undone when out of pride and insolence we thrust them forward onto the attention of others, show off their intellectual attainments, and relish the flattering words our families and friends feel compelled to dish out.

I've seen homeschooling moms, in front of their children, publicly praise one child for performing their studies two grade levels ahead of where they "should" be, while simultaneously pointing out that the other child is "not the academic type - but that's okay! We need all kinds!" The first child walks off with her head held high ("Mom thinks I'm the smart one!") while the other is left feeling inferior and worthless simply because her talents lie in different areas. It's devastating to exalt one child above another and defeats a key reason people homeschool in the first place!

Second, it hurts those considering homeschooling. A few years ago, we invited friends along to our provincial homeschooling conference. At the time, they were just considering the possibility and we were excited about them spending a whole weekend immersed in the subject. However, things back-fired a little when one of the very first moms to introduce herself after we arrived began a spiel about how young her children were when they began university and how they lead such godly lives, etc. She meant of course, to present homeschooling in a positive light, but to those still on the fence about the issue, it came across as prideful, arrogant, and extremely off-putting.

Thankfully, our friends stuck around and met many other homeschooling families over the course of the weekend and discovered that not everybody spouts off all their accomplishments and how wonderful it all is within minutes of meeting you.

If you happen to be one of those moms with 8 polite, finely-dressed, instrument-playing, intellectually astute children to whom homeschooling comes easily, I say: Well done! Be thankful for your gifts, hone your strengths, use them to serve others... and keep your successes to yourself unless asked. Remember:
"Your walk talks and your talk talks. But your walk talks more than your talk talks."Third, it hurts you. Our lives will greatly lack in joy unless we get over the need to prove ourselves. Continually trying to live up to the expectations of others, real or perceived, is exhausting and draining. You risk your children drifting away or buckling under fear of not measuring up. You yourself may be rendered useless as a homeschooling mom when you fail to meet your own impossible standard.

We will always be found wanting if we try to find our satisfaction, purpose, and sense of worth as a homeschooling mom in how well we teach our children or what they manage to learn. It's only the grace of God that makes any of us capable of accomplishing anything. A full and humble reliance on His redemptive work is the only way we can find true satisfaction in the job He has called us to do.

Let it not be our children or our teaching skills we hold out as trophies, but God's extraordinary grace which works despite our failures, shortcomings, insecurities, and sinful struggles. You, your children, and those looking on will be blessed and refreshed when they realize your strength does not come from within yourself but from the Lord who gives freely to all who ask (James 1:5).

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