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Don’t Let Unrealistic Expectations Damage Your Homeschooling Experience

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By Linda Dobson

During the last Christmas holidays, I engaged in what for me is a rare activity. I watched television programs. Not just any old television programs, mind you. Many were sitcoms. As if that wasn’t great enough, they were reruns of sitcoms made for Christmas’ past.
One of these programs involves two divorced brothers who live together, one of whom has a young son who visits from time to time. In this episode, the brother who is a father has “gotten lucky.” He has a new, beautiful girlfriend recently moved into the home and, because she’s a great cook, she pretty much commands control of it.
GingerbreadHouseEnter the holiday season. While everyone else is out, the girlfriend transforms the home into a Christmas wonderland containing every decoration known to man. While to my undiscerning eye it looked like a hurricane had ripped through a dollar store at Christmas time, apparently there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.
The son was over for a visit, all ate vociferously, and it was time to gather around the piano for a sing-along. All were gay and merry until the girlfriend noticed that someone had tinkered with the reindeer set atop the piano. The culprit, equally as undiscerning as I, didn’t know enough to put the reindeer back in the proper order.
As the girlfriend flew into a tirade, all the men gave each other looks that silently said, “She’s outta her ever lovin’ mind.” The moment was over. The singing stopped.
All went to bed but weren’t sleeping well. When the two brothers decided to sneak into the kitchen for another piece of pie, as they descended the steps they saw the girlfriend rocking in a chair, switching the Christmas lights on and off while mumbling things like, “Every year it’s the same. I try to make everything perfect. I can never make it perfect.”
In her mind, she was a failure. In mine, she had unrealistic expectations.
It very much reminded me of the sense of failure that so often overcomes otherwise sane homeschooling parents, also courtesy of unrealistic expectations. Whether new to homeschooling or a seasoned veteran, whether due to choosing homeschooling as a remedy to a bad schooling experience or to the self-comparison to other homeschooling families to which we almost universally subject ourselves, homeschoolers are much more apt to experience unrealistic expectations than most. By saying no to conventional methods of family life, we accept responsibility that others don’t. We take that responsibility quite seriously. After all, the world – or at least our mother-in-law – is watching closely.
By seeing unrealistic expectations unfold in a different scenario, the following is what I observed. While lost in the world of unrealistic expectations:
* You suffer a state of unhealthy stress. The lesson for home educators: You impose that stress on yourself. Only you can remove it.
* The quest for perfection prevents you from enjoying all of the wonderful occurrences taking place around you. The lesson for home educators: Things usually aren’t as awful as you’re making them out to be.
* You can become very unpleasant to those whom you consider the source of unmet expectations, even as they are the ones you most want to experience happiness and success. The lesson for home educators: These are your children who will soon grow up and be gone; give them good memories to take with them.
* Everyone still in Realistic Expectation Land is rolling her eyes or making the cuckoo sign next to his ear when you’re not watching. The lesson for home educators: If you don’t stop with unrealistic expectations, one day you will look back at them and it will be you rolling your eyes and making the cuckoo sign to your own ear.
* No matter how hard you work, everyone picks up the negative vibrations associated with that work, and the work is for naught. The lesson for home educators: It’s not that unrealistic expectations don’t help; it’s that they actually hinder.
The odds are good that you didn’t choose homeschooling in the first place so that you could live a stress-full lifestyle and make life miserable for the children you love. Remember, it’s not the homeschooling itself that does this. Rather, it’s the unrealistic expectations and the burdens associated with them that cause meltdown.
Would the world be a better place if populated with untold Einsteins? Hardly. Homeschooling’s greatest benefits include the opportunity for children to discover their natural gifts and nurture them, at the same time setting aside the hectic pace of school attendance, which allows the time necessary to do so. Maintaining this knowledge in the forefront of your mind will help keep your expectations realistic, and your home – and homeschool – much happier and healthier places to be, grow, and thrive.

A version of this article originally appeared in Home Education Magazine

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