Lately I've been thinking a lot about the number of articles and posts I've read where folks are confessing that their lives aren't perfect. The buzz words today are 'authenticity' and 'transparency'. Whatever your vocation or message, it has become important to emphasize that you have many flaws and sometimes bad things happen in your life.
I recognize the need to find our 'tribe', to know we aren't alone, to gain encouragement from the idea that others have faced similar circumstances, to feel understood. But I thought it was a given that even if someone appears to be blissfully successful, they still put their pants on one leg at a time and sneeze green boogers like the rest of us. I mean, haven't you noticed how many Hollywood couples can't seem to stay married, (or faithful) for longer than 5 minutes? Death, disease, betrayal, and fear are felt by everyone - just read the headlines while waiting in the checkout line at the store. Tragedy is not a respecter of persons.
Does anyone really Have It All?
I started writing about this topic in Part 1, relating how my personality and life experiences affect my point of view, my reactions, how I write, and what I want to write about.
Now, based on some of most common confessions I've seen on parenting and homeschool blogs, I'm going to share some stuff about my own household and family issues.
My house isn't always clean and organized.
Does it sound cranky to say "Well, duh"? I mean, several people live here. As a homeschooling family, one of us is always home doing something that involves creating dirty dishes, piles of laundry, art supplies on the table, games in the floor, books on chairs, and clutter near the front door. There is a science experiment on my kitchen counter as we speak, but since it doesn't involve anything that will decompose or cause a health hazard, it may stay there for another week. Or two.
However, I'm not satisfied with chaos, so everyone has a responsibility to help maintain our home to a reasonable standard of organization and cleanliness. Every so often we do a sort of inventory of our belongings and get rid of things we don't use or need. I make spaces for everyone's stuff so when I remind certain members of my family to put their things away, they know exactly where said things belong. If I have to pick it up, it becomes mine because obviously they don't want it anymore, and if I don't need it, I give it away or throw it away. Problem solved.
We view our home as a tool we use to accommodate our lives. I don't serve this house with expensive collectibles, decorative tchotchkes, and a furniture arrangement that looks good in a picture but doesn't invite fellowship and conversation. Anything that makes it hard for me to maintain order and cleanliness goes . . . out.
I don't spend much time worrying how this house looks to people who compare everything to HGTV and Pinterest. Three years ago I took down all our pictures to give the walls a fresh coat of paint. I just rehung those pictures two weeks ago, and I don't feel a bit bad about that, because hanging pictures is not a priority when you are caring for a parent with Alzheimer's while homeschooling three kids and overseeing a local homeschool support group.
I recommend that we stop feeling like we are being held hostage to illogical expectations of beautifully spotless homes and get on with the business of living.
Our homeschool life has its ups and downs.
Home repairs, illness, and other emergencies both major and minor inevitably happen. Sometimes we are just tired. There are days when we feel unsatisfied with what we've accomplished. Frustrations arise at the oddest moments for the strangest reasons. Right now there is a fly (probably came in with the dog) harassing me and I want to beat it to death with a shovel.
Because we know ups and downs are normal, we must develop strategies to deal with the days when we are forced to navigate stumblingblocks.
- We stop to assess the situation.
- We choose a response that moves us toward a solution.
- We keep our overarching goals in mind.
- We understand times of refreshing are as necessary as hard work, so we take a break when we need it.
- We recognize that even when we aren't 'doing school', we are still learning while reading or listening to a book, or having a conversation about an interesting topic.
- We work as a team to support and encourage each other.
- We know unpleasant situations are temporary and don't allow it take over our life.
I don’t make detailed lesson plans.
I used to try to plan the entire year down to the minute. It made my Type A heart happy to see little squares on planning pages neatly filled in with everything we were going to do during the year to meet our goals.
Then my children's needs and interests changed and the lesson plans went into the paper shredder. Online planners are somewhat better because I can use the Delete button to make changes that don't involve big inky blotches of strike-throughs or a huge pile of eraser guts on my desk.
After a year or two of trying to put our round-ish homeschool in a square hole, we started creating long range goals – basically, the subject knowledge and skill sets the kids wanted to acquire by the time they graduated – and planning about four weeks at a time. This allows for the kind of flexibility delight-directed, sanity-preserving homeschooling requires. As an ambitious, perfectionist mom, I had to learn to create an environment that ministered to the actual homeschoolers – my kids.
Our kids act like kids, and parenting is hard.
Children are immature. Isn't that a masterful statement of the obvious? They are growing, changing, exploring, questioning. They look to us for guidance, for boundaries, for inspiration.
This is not some sort of parenting secret. Just like yours, our children disobey and push to see if the limits we've set are really and truly limits. They ask hard questions because they are curious or they don't have enough experience to understand the consequences of their actions. They get cranky when they are too cold, too hot, too tired, or too hungry.
So do we.
Each one of our children are unique, and we marvel at their individuality. Then we struggle to meet their individual needs while still being consistent in our expectations. Some children are more challenging than others. Their desire for independence at three years old is terrifying, but we don't want to stifle it completely because we know how valuable self-reliance will be when they are adults. A sensitive child that feels everything so deeply will one day, with the right kind of guidance, become a caring adult who invests in others.
The reason we read articles and blogs about parenting is that even as children develop and mature along individual paths, they follow some very similar behavior patterns. We as parents can commiserate, comfort, and advise each other because of these similarities.
We are not alone - we are all about as normal as normal can get.
Through all of this I'm learning how healthy and helpful it is to share our experiences. I can see how isolation, real or imagined, breeds fear - and fear keeps you in a corner with your hands over your eyes.
But I've also realized how much sharing can lead to comparing. Why do we need to know that someone else's house is messy or they have bad hair days? Do we feel a sense of satisfaction when someone fails or experiences a loss? 'Cause that's just icky.
Are we using their faults to excuse our own failures? After all, if someone else is setting the bar nice and low, we can tell our conscience to shut up and stop nagging us to do better.
When someone's life looks successful and happy, are we consumed with covetousness, insecurity, resentment, or despair? Let's face it - comparing yourself to others never results in true change of your mind and heart and behavior, and it certainly doesn't lead to happiness, contentment, and an abundant life.
When our focus isn't healthy, we aren't moved to love and serve Christ, to seek out and meet needs, and minister to others.
The stories we share can serve a purpose, such as seeking help and forgiveness, to encourage and minister, to lighten burdens, build relationships, and support and strengthen others.