New Year’s resolutions for homeschoolers

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.

16 replies
  1. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Good constructive steps. It’s gratifying to see you grow as a home schooling parent.

    As for the impact parenting has on kids, that’s not exactly settled science at this point.

    A kid growing up is a process in which nature pursues its own goals. If you try and facilitate the work nature is trying to do, you can accomplish a lot. If you try and engineer the process to your own specifications, something sadly too common, things are unlikely to turn out so well for anyone.

    A focus on connecting to and loving your kids – something tells me that is the right direction for anyone who wants them to have a good childhood.

  2. Christina
    Christina says:

    I especially like your first resolution. I firmly believe that we can control how much our kids appreciate us. My resolution as a homeschooling parent this year is that when the kids ask me to play with them,that is my priority over housework or writing. Obviously, it can’t be all day long, but I want to make sure that I’ve said yes to playing with them, whatever they want to do, every day, even if it means they don’t want to do anything I’ve suggested that day. I’ve done that a whole lot more and can already see the difference.

  3. Amy Andrews
    Amy Andrews says:

    I’m trackin’ with you here, Penelope, particularly on #1. For me, I get so caught up in making sure the end result is right that I pick out every visible flaw whenever I see one. I do it to myself and I do it to my kids and it kills joy.

    My husband and I talked about it recently and he had such a great analogy—it’s like every time there’s a green shoot of growth that peaks through the soil, a bird comes along and plucks it up. I am now determined not to be a joy-plucker.

    As you and I mentioned before, I’ve resolve to say “yes” more this year. Also, I was inspired by Kat’s 12-word post about how to get your kids to be what you want them to be. Thirdly, I’m heeding the advice I heard many years ago that the best gift you could ever give your children is to have a great marriage.

    In short, this year, I’m working on myself, knowing it will be a lot more effective than me working on them.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “But, the one thing parents absolutely can control is how much their kids appreciate them when they grow up.”

    It’s hard for me to understand why having “their kids appreciate them when they grow up” is of real importance. Of course, it’s a nice thing. However, I think what is really important is to create an environment where the kids will want and be comfortable about going to their parents to ask questions and seek advice. You want to make your kids feel that you are approachable for anything they need and you have their best interests at heart.

  5. Kat
    Kat says:

    I like how this section of your site talks about things that you can apply to parenting in general (so not just people that are home schooling can learn and apply things).

  6. liz
    liz says:

    If you can’t control outcomes and kids need basic needs met then wouldn’t you take the kids out of a home with domestic violence, since their basic need for security isn’t being met, and wouldn’t you place them in traditional school since outcomes don’t matter and since being home is frustrating and often boring to you?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The question isnot just a homeschooling question – its aneverything question. Why do we do anything as parebts beyond the basics. And I’m thinking the answer is about joy and intimacy – that whether a parent and child experience joy and intimacy each day does notchange the kid long term but joy and intimacy are nice ways to live.


      • liz
        liz says:

        That makes sense about the homeschooling but what about the domestic violence and the lack of security (basic need) in your sons’ lives?

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Liz, there are two blog posts on that topic (on my other blog), and there are more than 1000 comments on those two posts. If you have something to add to that conversation that has not been covered in 1000 comments, you should add it to that conversation.


  7. LJM
    LJM says:

    2 out of 3 isn’t bad. #’s 1 and 2 are fantastic, positive steps and that’s awesome for you and your kids.

    But #3 is really, really, really, really incorrect. Factually (objectively, measurably), and strategically.

    It’s not true that a school you’re unfamiliar with sucks. It’s possible. It might even be likely. But it requires a useless assumption on your part. Like the assumption that every parent is already worried that their school is stupid. Or the assumption that everyone judges parents who homeschool. Again, you’re making objectively false, sweeping statements based on your very, very limited experience.

    Telling people you think school is stupid is to take on an automatic defensive attitude: “People are already judging me, so I’ll just say whatever I like without any consideration towards them at all. That’ll show ’em!” People aren’t as quick to judge homeschooling parents as they are to judge people who say condescending, rude things.

    If you really want to stop feeling defensive about homeschooling, stop being so offensive about it first. People don’t make you feel defensive. You feel defensive and then you blame people for it, instead of taking responsibility for it, instead of knowing you have a choice about how you feel. And that defensive feeling makes you say stuff that is insulting and condescending and, worst of all, objectively untrue.

    Homeschooling is an education choice that works for a lot of people. That is all anyone can really know about it. If you can settle into and become comfortable with that simple, humble truth, maybe you will be less likely to reflexively feel defensive about it.

  8. Jane
    Jane says:

    If you can’t control outocomes then why do care about homeschooling in the first place?
    If nature wins, why being middle class (nurture) is more important?
    Wouldn’t be a specific race or a specific genetic makeup more important that the family’s income?

    I really don’t get it.

  9. L (another Lisa)
    L (another Lisa) says:

    I am really enjoying your book recommendations throughout many of your posts. Happy New Year!

  10. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I actually find it a great relief when I read that nature seems to outweigh nurture. And not just because one of my kids happens to have a mental illness. I wouldn’t want to bear the burden of total responsibility for any other human being’s life, especially a person I love so deeply. I prefer taking the approach that the only thing I am truly and completely responsible for is the quality of the relationship I have with my child.

  11. Darlene
    Darlene says:

    Quick question – if you buy into the construct that not much we do matters, as parents in the middle class, than why bother homeschooling at all?

  12. Latha
    Latha says:

    I am very glad to read the first resolution. I think it is as much as a gift to yourself as to your children. Wonderful, Penelope!

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