Here is what I'm going to work on this year, as a homeschooling parent:
1. Spend less time trying to control outcomes.
Someone recently recommended to me the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, by Bryan Caplan. It's a terrible title, but the gist of the book is that in the nature vs. nurture debate, nature is winning by a landslide – it's just that no one likes hearing that, so it's underreported. Imagine this cover of Psychology Today: "Nothing you do as a parent matters as long as you're in the middle class." That wouldn't sell any magazines, would it? Actually, that's probably why the book has such a terrible title.
Anyway, it's a great book, full of quirky evidence (like parents do not affect the age a son has intercourse) and amazing studies (twin studies, sibling studies, DNA studies). I have never been so certain that as long as you are meeting a kid's basic needs, parenting does not matter in terms of outcomes.
But, the one thing parents absolutely can control is how much their kids appreciate them when they grow up. And this seems important. So I've been thinking that focusing on connecting and loving the kids rather than getting them to be a certain way is what I should be doing. I might re-read this book ten more times in 2012.
2. Respond to obvious but inconvenient needs of the kids.
For example, I will stick to a schedule. My kids do not verbally demand a schedule, but every piece of research in the world says that kids like structure. So I will force myself to give some. Just because we don't rush in the morning to get on the school bus doesn't mean we can't be predictable.
Another concession: I will get a tutor. It's clear to me that I'm a crappy math teacher for my son who loves math. I think I have a remarkable ability to make math boring to a kid who is enthralled because I am bored, and you can't hide that. So even though I said we are unschooling and not doing "subjects" I am getting a math tutor.
And I will keep my eyes open for things the kids want that I do not want. (Most recently this has been skateboarding.) Those are the hardest parts of parenting to get right, I think.
3. Live calmly at the mid-point between attacker and defendant.
I am not going to tell people their school sucks. It's true, of course. But people are sick of hearing this from me. I need to be less combative. It scares my kids. I will just tell people that we homeschool because I think school is stupid. If I say that then people will think I am stupid. It's easier for them than if I tell them their school is stupid because that is something they were already worried about.
Everyone judges parents who homeschool. But this doesn't mean I have to fall into the trap. How they judge me doesn't matter. I need to keep reminding myself that I have made good decisions in the past that everyone told me were totally stupid decisions. I need to trust myself and then I won't feel defensive every time I say we homeschool.