Have you noticed how easy it is to wish away your chief personality features? Do you think to yourself, “I’m the wrong personality for my temperament”? You might wish for a clean, orderly home in your heart, but your personality style is relaxed Bohemian. Or you are the sort who keeps a ship-shape house, but wish you could relax when your kids make big creative messes.
Layered on top of the structured versus unstructured selves we bring to homeschool are our memories of school. We compare what we do at home (even when we don’t want to) to what we experienced as children. We react against it (“I’m not doing *that!”) or we we suffer because of it (“I’m not teaching my kids anything”).
The temptation to overhaul our essential selves is powerful. Advertising everywhere tells us we are one tweak away from being the fantasy person in our heads. We may be able to resist Botox or Coach purses, but the seductress for home educators is any “method” that results in effortless, joyful learning where parents and kids get along all the time.
We hop from one program to the next like frogs on lily pads forgetting to consider which personality is implementing the philosophy!
Let me let you in on a little secret.
There’s no one personality type that is better for homeschooling than another.
Let me drill down further.
There’s no one personality type that is better for parenting, loving, nurturing than another.
Every type has its marvelous strengths, and (darn it all) each type has its blind spots and liabilities.
What you and I need to do is to become self aware people—able to recognize when our personalities are creating the hum of happiness and productivity, and when they are sapping the energy from the room and causing pain.
It isn’t always better to have a messy or a neat house.
Sometimes waking up to a clear kitchen table, fluffed pillows, books easy to access, and a freshly vacuumed carpet is the most nurturing way to start the day. If, however, the process of getting there ended an art project or removed a Robin Hood fort still lingering in the minds of your kids as they went to bed, the same cleared space in the morning may now feel like robbery:
“Where did you put my art project?”
“Do I really have to get out all the blankets again for my fort?”
The question to ask yourself as you move through the day isn’t “How can I be more relaxed?” or “How can I be more productive?”
You want to ask yourself a single question:
“How can I best serve this moment?”
I remember when I went to graduate school, I had just begun our unschooling experiment. It was a study in contrasts. I was being educated by highly trained academics with lectures, a syllabus, reading schedule, essay assignments, and tests. My kids were free to explore the world without any hindrance.
Or so I thought.
What became apparent to me after a semester surprised me. I loved graduate school. It felt nurturing to have someone care enough to create lessons, to show me what I should read to get a full view of the subject, to dialog with me from a position of investment and knowledge. I liked having a plan and a schedule. I felt relief. I had studied the subject area for five years on my own, and now I felt this surge of strength that came from guidance and support.
Meanwhile, the structures I had used in homeschool were on hold. I wanted my kids to feel free to learn what they wanted, to investigate any topic to their hearts’ content. A couple of them took off! But two floundered. They felt (strangely enough) unloved. They wouldn’t have used that language but in hindsight that’s what it was. They felt connected to me when I took the time to plan their lessons and guide their education. They lost that connection when I gave them “freedom.”
I spent hours on unschooling lists learning how to create the context, how to support an unschooling lifestyle, how to foster and nurture a rich learning environment. I didn’t “abandon” my kids to doing whatever they wanted unsupervised. Nevertheless, two of my children missed planned lessons and a structure for learning. I understood this because I was having a parallel experience in grad school.
What becomes so difficult to tease apart as a home educator is the idealized vision of learning that dances in our heads like sugar plums and the very real home and family we have. Our job isn’t to be more organized or more relaxed, more structured or completely free of structure.
Our job is to serve the moment—to serve the needs of our families from within the framework of our delightful personalities.
We can do that best when we lean into our strengths.
If you’re an orderly person, create happy order. Avoid the temptation to require everyone to be like you. Resist your tendency to nag or to have your feelings hurt when the rest of your gang is unenthusiastic for kitchen duty or keeping tables cleared. Straighten, file, assemble check lists, keep the sink empty, make the beds, plan the day. Enthusiastically offer your talent for creating a clean, peaceful, orderly, neat space to the family as a gift.
If you’re a relaxed, go-with-the-flow mom, stop pummeling your personality. Your home is cozy, it’s alive with activity, and it supports messes without stress. Keep big containers nearby for quick clean-ups, make a loose routine to follow each day (rather than a schedule), allow your kids who need order to create systems to support you and the family. Smile.
Do not worry that you aren’t getting enough done in either system or style. Focus on this moment. What is happening right now? How can I help it become a good moment? Shall I ease up and let the mess grow? Shall I hunker down and clear the space so something new can be born? Are we getting along and growing?
Above all: no system saves you. You will eventually go back to being who you are. Your job is to be the best you, you can be. Be the you that creates love and learning, not the you that worries and frets or ignores and pretends away.
You can even say to your kids in a moment of frazzledness:
“You know me! I need everything cleaned up before I can think straight. Anyone willing to help me so we get the day off to a good start? My brain is about to fall out of my head when I see shoes scattered everywhere. Cookies to the helpers!”
“You know me! I can’t put a week-long system together for the life of me. Let’s make a quick list for today of things we want to study and do, and then put them in an order. Who wants to make the list with me? If today feels good, we can do it again tomorrow. Let’s eat cookies while we discuss.”
See? The goal isn’t to “reform” who you are and how you are. The goal is to be the best of yourself that you can be, acknowledging that within your strengths and weaknesses is a real human being doing the best she can. Your kids want to help you and they want to be themselves too.
They’ll learn to love who they are in direct proportion to how well you love who you are.
Go forth and love yourself.