Does Your Suffering Have Meaning?

Yours. Yes, yours.

I know, it’s relatively light suffering, perhaps. But there’s no reason to brush it off as non-existent.

I’ll admit it. As a new homeschooler, I suffered.

Although my children had never been in public school, it took me some time to develop my convictions.

I suffered when other parents rejoiced when school started back up in the fall. On days that the children did not do as they were told, on days when school work was just too hard, I suffered.

There were days when we all cried.

Suffering in anything is a given. Suffering in anything worth doing is also a given.

The point is this: does it have meaning and do you know what that meaning is?

David Brooks, in The Road to Characterputs it quite succinctly.

For most of us, there is nothing noble about suffering. When it is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair.

But some people can connect their suffering to some greater design. It is not the suffering itself that makes all the difference, but the way it is experienced.

So as a homeschooler, even an experienced one, do you know why you suffer? Can you see the good that comes from it?

Those hard days, those days when nothing goes right, or even the days when everything seems fine but there is that nagging feeling, do you know why you do what you do?

If you don’t, it’s time you thought about it and developed some convictions. It is in these that you will be able to see the long term picture.

It is your convictions that will give you the strength to go on.

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A Meditation on Seeing

The first hint that everyone is getting sick in our family is that the children can’t remember their multiplication tables.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the signs until I have a sore throat myself. I always wonder why they’re suddenly incapable of basic calculations.

I would make a terrible fortune teller.

Seeing What’s There

An odd thing happened while I was lying in bed this morning with my sore throat. I have mentioned before that we are currently in a time of transition.

Our small house is on the market and we are now in our even smaller apartment.

In my cold delirium, looking for my husband, I looked toward the wall of our bedroom. It took me a few minutes to realize it was a wall and not the corridor leading to the bathroom.

At first, I was confused. I stared at it a good three minutes before getting my mental bearings back and realizing my mistake.

I was in the wrong place, I realized. Actually, I was in the right place; it was just that the map in my head was wrong.

This is often true of homeschoolers, especially new homeschoolers.

How often, when we begin homeschooling, do we stop to revise our mental maps? How often do we get them wrong? Do we judge our children by how long they work through the day?

Do we overschedule them because we’re trying to remain true to the idea of public school in our heads?

Do we worry that they are not in lock step with the rest of the children on our block, our community, our cousins and friends?

That’s a bit like staring at a wall and expecting to see the hallway there.

Seeing what truly exists requires constant reexamination, at least in the beginning. It needs all our mental faculties.

See what’s in front of you, not what’s around or before. Change your mental maps. Welcome to homeschooling.

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Homeschooling & Clutter

With tastes such as frugality, organization, lifelong learning and homeschooling, it should come as no surprise that reducing clutter is another passion of mine.

But I am hardly talking about the kind of clutter that builds up in our homes.

I have dedicated another blog post to that about homeschooling in a small house. And there are various other websites dedicated to reducing items we bring into the home that end up owning us.

I want to talk instead about the kind of clutter that is even more insidious – mental clutter.

Change takes time and most of what changes when change occurs is us.

Organization 101

When you talk to any organization expert, the first thing they will tell you is you cannot organize clutter. The thing to do with it instead is to get rid of it.

But how many of us think about cleaning house in this way?

Reduce Mental Clutter

If this is your first year homeschooling, the most important thing you can do is reduce clutter. And let me be clear – in this case, “reduce” means “get rid of.”

Don’t set your ideas aside. Change them.

Think about things, form convictions. If something doesn’t fit, throw it away. Do not shelve it.

Too often, we get bogged down by old ideas as much as by old items.

If you’re thinking of getting a handle on organization, begin here.

Getting Started

An easy way to get started is to read from an excellent list of books about homeschooling. I have compiled one here.

Another way to do so is to question your own assumptions. Change takes time and most of what changes when change occurs is us. If you are scared, nervous, or otherwise concerned about something, don’t avoid thinking about it.

Instead, find out where it hurts, what it is and delve deep into it until you reach the solution.

Watch your children, learn from them, from each other and see what fits. Throw everything else away. And you will be left with what works.

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“I Wish I Had Started Sooner!”

Knowing how much I’m enjoying writing my blog, I recently thought: I wish I had started sooner! Along with my Facebook page and my books, my work has helped me connect with so many of you that I would otherwise never have met. It gives me a reason to wake up early and read widely. It gives me something to talk about, something to think deeply about, something to have deep convictions about. The blog helps me focus my energies in a way nothing has ever before.

Why Wait?

I should have started it a long time ago. Why didn’t I? Well, two reasons – one, I didn’t have the technical know-how and two, I was afraid.

These are the most common reasons I think that people delay doing anything. And homeschooling is no exception. But just like with a blog, the two can be dealt with rather effectively.

Technical details:

When it came to my blog, I asked a friend to help me set it up. I was unsure. At the time, my blog was called Unruffled Mothering with the byline “Don’t get your feathers in a bunch.” I didn’t really know it would work and I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. She very generously set it up and enthusiastically encouraged me to go with it.


I still sat on it for eight months. Fear held me back. I was afraid – worried of having opinions, putting them out there, taking criticism. I wrote a little here, a little there. Nothing earth-shattering. And then, out of the blue sometime in late December, the idea of writing about our particular (peculiar?) style of homeschooling came to me. I mean, I was already doing it. Why not write about it?

It’s All Trial and Error, Anyway

As soon as that idea hit, it was as if the flood gates were opened. I began writing furiously. I didn’t need to agree with anyone, I realized. And no one needed to agree with me. I didn’t need approval and I didn’t need permission. More than anything else, I knew I was still figuring things out – just like everyone else around me. 

Why do I mention this? Because homeschooling can look at lot like starting a business or a blog. There are technical details that have to be worked out, but after that, the world is pretty much your canvas. You can choose to strike out on your own – knowing that you can fail – or you can choose to follow what others have done as long as you realize that no one has it all figured out completely. Everyone is using trial and error. 

Knowing this is powerful. It leaves you free to explore, free to make mistakes, free to learn.

Don’t seek permission. Figure it out.

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There is Never a Perfect Time

If you’re undertaking a new venture, it helps to know that there is never a perfect time to begin. This is certainly true of homeschooling.

As the weather cools and we enter fall, you might feel left behind if you were considering homeschooling this summer. Something held you back – the logistics, perhaps or you didn’t have enough time to think things through or create a curriculum.

Maybe you wanted to give it more thought.

All of these are (maybe) good reasons to delay the decision – but here’s one that not: it wasn’t the perfect time.

I find myself using this term – now’s not the time, maybe later – and it’s often to my detriment. By half hanging on to the hope of doing something but making no progress toward it, I deny myself the satisfaction of working toward a goal. On the other hand, by not cutting it off completely, I don’t get any closure on the matter. I don’t free up mental space to do other things, pursue other desires.

Instead, I’m teaching myself to remember that there is never a perfect time. Convictions matter more than timelines. If you are convinced that homeschooling is the path for you, explore it and take the leap no matter where in the school year you find yourself.

The legal aspects of this are important, of course, so be sure to consult the HSLDA website and file when necessary but it is my understanding that when you begin homeschooling in states that require an affidavit, you may file at at time.

Convictions take time to grow, but it is up to us to give them to raw material to do so. I’m talking about a good night or three having trouble sleeping. These are good things. These are what spur us on to do things we want.

There is never a perfect time, but there is a perfect conviction. Think and read until you develop one and when you have, don’t wait for anything else.

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Don’t Finish What You Start

Some people love making rules. The more rules the better, they think. I mean, haven’t we heard the adage, “Discipline is freedom?” Only in total discipline, in not making minute by minute decisions can you experience complete freedom, right?

Weeelll…. sort of.

If you’re the kind of person who does well with firm boundaries and enjoys having people depend on you, yes. The majority people fall into this group.

However, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like unnecessary rules, the idea of discipline being freedom will start to feel like a prison of your own making.

Consider something simple: reading a book. What if I asked you why we insist we finish one?

Well, well, because you finish what you start! you would reply.

And therein lies the rub.

Who made that rule?

I have written before about teaching children to quit. I think it’s important, if only for the reason that they ask themselves why.

Why, oh why, as adults, do we think it’s a failure to quit reading a book? It’s a book. Choosing to stop reading it because it’s become boring is not a test of your morality or your worth.

As I homeschool, I am painfully aware of rules. I am responsible for making good rules for my children to follow. But just as I make them, I begin to realize, I have to know when and if to break them. Sometimes, my daughter quips up about something I said years ago that inadvertently got turned into a law.

And I have to remind her that there are only ten commandments.

Don’t Finish What You Start

I understand the appeal of creating rules for oneself. I do it, too. It’s like a game you play with yourself. A budget is a rule, for example, that carries a lot of freedom with itself. A template to follow for homeschooling, a schedule is another one.

But if we’re not careful, this rule-making can get addictive. Like a bloated government – which we are as parents within a family, sorry to break it to you – we never relinquish control or power.

The more insidious side of it is when that power comes back to bite us in the behind. Exhibit one: finish what you start. Finish that book, that curriculum, that task, that program, that garden, that (insert whatever you feel guilty about quitting) long after its worth is diminished, its value lost.

You don’t need to, you know. You can stop at any time. Without guilt. Things outlive their worth. That’s how we distinguish what’s valuable and what’s merely nice.

You have finite time. Don’t waste it fulfilling unnecessary rules.

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It’s Okay to Change Your Mind

In a previous blog post titled Does Your Homeschool Match Your PersonalityI mentioned that reading some of Gretchen Rubin’s work changed how I thought. I could not understand, for example, why I resisted meeting demands even when I had imposed them on myself. Thanks to learning more about the four tendencies, I am beginning to learn how to use my dominant traits to work for me rather than against me.

It’s Okay to Change

I am always a little envious of people who seem to know themselves. You know the type – they’re articulate, they seem to have thought things through, they have opinions at the age of twenty about how the world works. I am not one of them. As I approach forty, I am beginning to realize I’m never going to have the world sorted out.

But that’s okay. Because all living things change. And change includes changing your mind.

By this, I don’t mean I know nothing. There are some basic things I have sorted out, but I am not in favor of clinging to something if it’s clearly not working.

Case in Point

We recently discovered that we have two out of three children motivated by gaining pleasure and one motivated only by avoiding pain. As you probably know, we had been paying our children to do chores around the home. As it turned out, one child took on more chores and accumulated a decent amount of wealth (for her!) while the other one had to be constantly reminded, goaded, nagged to get something done.

So we changed the structure. We began to give him a basic payment for regular chores and then added optional chores. And then we changed it again. The problem was, he was happy with too little. We had to go the all-or-nothing route.

So now he has mandatory tasks for which he gets nothing (well, he still gets bed and board, as I remind him often enough) and the optional, “in case you’d like to make money” tasks. These are nevertheless important tasks which we need done and appreciate.

Don’t be Married to Ideology

Look for results. This applies as much in your homeschool as it does to everything else. If we had decided we had arrived, chores would never get done, or at least be incredibly frustrating. So we changed our mind.

You can, too.


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Choose Education, Not An Affiliation

Here’s a question: what’s the easiest way to get frustrated as a homeschooler? Answer: trying to fit into a mold that is clearly not made for you. Or your kids.

There are a few ways this can happen. Here I will talk about three of the most common.

These mistakes happen most often around the first or second year of homeschooling. Usually, parents who persist beyond the third year figure things out and settle into some basic patterns comfortable to them.

Believing an Education Philosophy That Doesn’t Fit Your Personality

I write about this often enough that if you’re a reader of this blog, you’ve come across a few posts about this. I am still constantly surprised, though, at the number of people who tell me that they can’t homeschool because they’re not organized. The truth is if they’ve got an idea of how homeschooling is supposed to look  and that is the reason you’re afraid of it, that idea is probably the wrong one.

Education does not happen because the children are ready at 9 am, hair and teeth brushed, pencils sharpened. It does not happen because you they can obey you or listen for your voice in a crowded room. They are not educated because they have manners. While these contribute to refinement and ease things in terms of interpersonal relationships, education can happen outside of these trappings.

Figure out your family’s characteristics, your own personality, your child’s personality and work with it. Don’t force homeschooling in a top down manner. You will fail.

Throwing Good Money After Bad Curricula

So let’s say you bought a bad curriculum. I’ve been there. There is a certain math curriculum out there that I’d really enjoy burning. So now what? Do you stick with it day in and day out even though you hate it? Or should you get another and make it work? Or should you dump the whole thing and start over? Do you even need curricula?

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: at any point in your homeschooling, you can choose to quit a certain way of doing things. If you are not seeing the results you want, if this is not the way you or your family does things, if the curriculum isn’t doing what you’d like it do for you, feel free to dump it. There is no reason to wait until the end of the year.

Listening to Too Many Education Experts

While most homeschoolers will agree with the above, I think this is one that trips up many. Choose an affiliation wisely is the best advice I can give you. At any point, if what the person/friend/blogger/expert/teacher says (and yes, I include myself here) you are free to disagree to him or her and do things your way. Yes, this counts even if the person is dead. (I’m looking at you, Mason and Montessori.)

Who cares if that’s not the way to establish a good habit? Who cares if that’s how children were taught in Ancient and Medieval times? If it doesn’t work for your family, do it the way it works. Period.

You’re in this for your children. You’re not in this for anyone else. Choose an education for them, not an affiliation for you.

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Homeschooler, Deschool Yourself!

It’s that time when everyone is returning to school. I’m sure your Facebook feed – like mine – is full of it. Parents are thrilled kids are back in school and to homeschoolers it seems like an odd thing that so many are so happy not to see their children for an entire day, day in and day out for weeks and months.

….until we realize that maybe it has little to do with physical proximity and more to do with worldview.

You see, in the public school worldview, everyone in a family goes off and does their thing individually in their specific “cubicles,” if you will. Everything is segregated. Everything is specialized. There are subjects and disciplines that do not intersect. Margins and borders are drawn in thick, black markers.

But is that truly the world we live in today?

Think about it. In a world where kindergartners are being groomed to go to college as an ultimate goal, are we truly ever done learning even after college? Do we even need a degree to learn something? In this age of information, what does a degree even signal? In a time when more and more employees are in charge of their own schedules and choose to work remotely, what exactly is the value of a cubicle?

It’s a great time to homeschool but we first have to deschool ourselves.

We have to stop thinking of education as something that comes from one benign source. We have to give up the desire to be spoonfed information. Deschooling, unlike what people might have in mind, requires constant, consistent learning. It is a shift in perspective from, “Teach me!” to “I’m going to find out!”

Before we homeschool effectively, we must deschool. We must get rid of the idea that anyone out there cares more about the education, information and knowledge that will come our way besides we ourselves.

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The Comfort of the Familiar

If you enter our home now, you will notice boxes piled high in all the rooms. We are moving house. And to make matters worse, we are doing it in two steps. There is no other word for it: it is difficult. It is also uncomfortable. Paring things down for daily use, deciding what is to be kept and what stored is not familiar territory to me. We don’t tend to have a lot of clutter, but I like what I have on hand and I usually know where to find what I need.

No more, though. Change is hard.

Sometimes, we tend to forget that as homeschoolers. When the routine becomes so familiar, we forget what it used to be when we were new. And that new ground is what some of you new homeschoolers are stepping into this August. So my best piece of advice is this: keep something familiar. Do not underestimate the comfort of that one familiar thing.

Change can be incredibly exciting.

I remember raring to go when I first decided to homeschool. It was an exciting time. We were embarking on an adventure, after all. I could smell it. There were decisions to be made, things to buy – everything was so new and fun!

But there was a downside. It was exhausting.

I had never done this before. My kids had never done this before. When we hit a snag, we didn’t know how to move forward. If my children didn’t react or learn the way the workbook said they should, I didn’t know what to do.

In those days, I realized the same thing I am discovering now in the midst of our move: there is comfort in the familiar. Instead of overhauling everything, keeping some things the same can be hugely motivating.

Ever heard the phrase “some things never change?” Notice the relief in that.

One thing I never took into account when we decided to move was how disruptive this would be for my children and how shaken they would feel as a result. Because our family thrives on our daily rhythms, the sudden change and discord became apparent. They became mopey and difficult. I began to wonder what had happened to my usually cheerful and happy kids.

So I had to be intentional about the small things, I realized. Because to the kids those were the big things. In the midst of moving, we brought back family movies, read alouds; we brought back library days.

So when beginning homeschooling – as in when moving – remember to balance the new with the old. Newness can be fun but tiring. And sometimes we need the old to tie us down and make us feel grounded.

Never underestimate the comfort of the familiar.

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