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Home Education Magazine

Beyond the Basics - Tamra Orr

The Myth of Perfect Children

As homeschoolers, many of us are living under a false assumption. We seem to believe, whether we dare speak it out loud or not, that if we homeschool our children (this is often after we have nursed them, slept with them, carried them, and nurtured them), they will be perfect kids. By protecting them from the pressures and perils of public school, by forging that bond with them from day one right through the teenage years, by raising them in an environment of compassion, acceptance, and freedom, we simply must have created a child who will always love us, never worry us and certainly be as close to perfect as possible.

It's a shock to find out that is not true.

Despite the foundation we may have given our children, they are not perfect. Some of them will make the wrong decisions. Some will go down the wrong roads. Some will frighten, disappoint and definitely concern us. For some parents, that is not a surprise. For homeschoolers, it can be a devastating shock. Isn't this one of the reasons we homeschooled? Didn't we spend those years homeschooling so we could prevent these very moments? Yes -- and many times it works but, occasionally, it does not, and that is when we make our second mistake. We start to reflect and then play the blame game. What if I had just waited another year to start working on reading with her? What if I had gotten involved in a support group sooner so he could have had more friends? What if I had yelled more/less; been more/less structured; put more/less emphasis on math/English/PE/fill in the blank? Dr. Jane Adams puts it this way in her book, When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us, "Somewhere there may be parents who don't blame themselves -- a little or a lot -- for why their grown kids are in trouble. But I've yet to meet them and if I did I probably wouldn't believe them. Guilt, after all, is the natural condition of parenthood."

The question, of course, is moot. We can't go back and change anything. And actually, most of us did a pretty darn good job of it in the first place. We made mistakes (proving that we're human) and we found better ways to do things (proving we're intelligent humans).

Sandra, a homeschooling mother of two, has been down this path. "My grown daughter works in a porn store. A porn store! She is covered in piercings, tattoos, and leather. She dates a frightening guy, and most of the time she seems either hostile or depressed. Who is this child?" Another homeschooling mother of four knows just what she is talking about. "I no longer recognize my daughter. She is angry, distant, and completely unfamiliar to me. I can't ask "how's the weather?" without her reading something negative into it. I nursed her until she was four, wore her in a sling and backpack for two years and unschooled her. Where did this person come from?"

What do we do when faced with a child who seems to be the opposite of all that we had ever pictured? This less-than-perfect child? This child who seems more of a stranger than the people we pass on the streets? It may not be a twelve-step program, but there are steps to take:

1) Stop blaming ourselves. For many of us, it's more than startling to realize that there are many influences on our children other than us. Sure, we homeschooled so that we would have the major influence, but every other friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance, not to mention television show, commercial, or magazine our children encounter will change them in one way or another. That is as it should be, but sometimes those influences are not what we had in mind.

2) Remember that we are the ones who taught these young creatures to have minds of their own. We taught them different was okay. Now they are proving those points every day. We wanted them to be independent but sometimes the way they express that can be staggering.

3) All young people go through phases. We don't say this out loud, of course, because it is a sure fire way to send them off ranting about this misguided, jaded older generation, but it is true. If they are in the middle of something (as long as it isn't something that could truly harm them), we must realize that "this too shall pass." We went through our own kinds of phases ourselves. (Remember disco?)

4) Keep in mind that we did give these children a solid foundation in love. Somewhere under those layers of hostility, distance, or non-response, there is the little person whose diapers we changed, whose neck we nuzzled, whose fingers clasped ours. This person may be hidden or wearing a costume, but we know she is there and, hopefully, one day will return.

5) Do not judge our parenting skills by how our children turned out. We could have been the perfect super parents and things might still have gone badly for a number of factors.

6) Be patient, patient, PATIENT. When our children suddenly follow paths we are not expecting, part of our job is to step back and patiently wait for them to make their journey and finally, when tired enough, come back home. Maybe they never will make the whole trip; maybe we will have to meet them half way down the trail. Waiting is hard; it can be agony -- but running after them often just makes them run faster and farther away than they would have in the first place.

Hopefully, all of our children will grow up into wonderful beings that make us absolutely positive we did the right thing in not sending them to school. It's important to realize, however, that as marvelously mind-expanding, soul-liberating, and spirit-enhancing as homeschooling is, it is not an impenetrable force field that protects our sons and daughters from making choices that lead in the wrong directions. It is, however, part of the foundation that will hopefully guide our children's and our own hearts and footsteps back together when the time is right.

© 2005 Tamra Orr

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