This is a guest post from Sarah Faulkner. She is a homeschooling mom in Washington state. She has five kids, ages 13, 11, 9, 5, and 2. 

I am a control(ish) person by nature.  Mostly I have grand ideas, and I schedule these ideas, only to have reality step in and dash them all away.  Or rather—what really happens—I drag my kids out on some adventure rather than being responsible at home.

This doesn’t stop me from fretting over the fact it feels like school is not getting accomplished. If I create a schedule, at least I feel like something might happen. My second son does his school work without a problem. He’s the one I remind myself of when I feel like a failure with my first.

My first son has no motivation to learn.  He is politely content, a lump reading on my couch.  He is learning, but my controlling nature screams at me that he isn’t and will grow up stupid.  When these moments of panic seize me there’s nothing to do to calm down but pepper him with questions to assure myself he’s learning.  Only he hates that and moves to being a lump reading on his bed.

1.  Seek advice from someone not related to you.
I first asked my dad for help, since my sister is getting a Bachelors degree in physics, and my 16 year old brother is self teaching college calculus.  He peppered me with questions, like, “Can he convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? How fast does he multiply? How fast does he read?”  He wasn’t fast enough, and that’s when I learned what Dad really thinks: that I should send him to public school.

In my controlling quest to help my son I decided to look for someone who didn’t know me. Then, if I didn’t like the advice, I could walk away without it being so personal. I took Penelope’s course on personalities for kids and thought maybe if I can figure out his personality I can get him to at least look like he’s doing school. Only I learned his personality is to sit around like a reading lump (ISTP).

Penelope said he would learn on his own and let him decide what to learn. Ok, I totally couldn’t accept that advice. Even though it’s great advice. When I sat down and asked him what he wanted to learn he said, “Nothing”.  My anxiety came back in full force.

2.  Find a hidden talent to excite them to learn.
The next advice I found was from a random blog: find his talent. So I went to Google to learn how to find my child’s talent but it all the advice was really for kids who had an interest in something already.I really don’t know what that kid does all day. It’s not electronics, but it must be something. It seemed the advice was that if I would spend enough money to put enough different things in front of him, I would unlock his secret. Only I wanted to do other things with my money, like eat.

So I finally sat him down, near tears, and told him how I couldn’t handle just leaving him alone.  I have to see he is learning something so I can feel like a good parent. I told him my self-esteem was on the line. Apparently what others would consider bad parenting was good parenting for him. He was quiet for a long while, and said he would like to learn coding.

3.  Be willing to act when they want to learn.
We compromised on subjects.  I wrote down the ones that I felt defined me as being a good parent, and he picked 2 he could put up with, but most importantly we wrote down goals for coding.  I took a risk and invested in what this company has to offer and struck gold.  It is a Saturday night, and while the rest of the family enjoys Wipe-Out, my son has logged 3 hours learning. Most importantly, I feel like a great mom.

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29 replies
  1. Phelan
    Phelan says:

    “When these moments of panic seize me there’s nothing to do to calm down but pepper him with questions to assure myself he’s learning.”

    How about developing another way to cope with your anxiety? He’s not responsible for it.

    “I first asked my dad for help, since my sister is getting a Bachelors degree in physics, and my 16 year old brother is self teaching college calculus.”

    What about your five children’s father? He might have some input.

    “So I finally sat him down, near tears, and told him how I couldn’t handle just leaving him alone. I have to see he is learning something so I can feel like a good parent. I told him my self-esteem was on the line.”

    Again: birthing him does not make him responsible for your lack of ability to handle your emotions or your lack of self-esteem.

    “Apparently what others would consider bad parenting was good parenting for him. He was quiet for a long while, and said he would like to learn coding.”

    Sounds like he to stabilize the situation and the only way he knows how is to take responsibility for your emotions and self-esteem. I’m sure that a 13-year old is equipped to handle his adult parent’s psychological burdens.

    “Most importantly, I feel like a great mom.”

    I hope that this was meant tongue-in-cheek. Unfortunately, the rest of the post makes it pretty clear that it was meant seriously, and the most important thing about your son’s behavior is that it makes you feel like a great mother. Which, I don’t know…is the OPPOSITE of being a good parent?

    • Kristi
      Kristi says:

      Hmm, I think you might have missed the *actual* tongue-in-cheek parts.

      It’s natural to be anxious about this–she’s responsible for her kid being able to learn enough to thrive as an adult. I admire the decision to be transparent about that concern. 13 is old enough to start sharing that responsibility.

    • Kristi
      Kristi says:

      Also, he’s a Sensor-Thinker. He probably benefited from having her connect the dots for him as to why she was anxious, and by being galvanized to think ahead about future careers.

    • Mary Sunshine
      Mary Sunshine says:

      well I am confused. It was obvious that the first blog post about how to cut corners when homeschooling was very tongue in cheek. I really liked it and laughed a lot. This one I am not so sure about. It made me feel very sad to look at the photo, which is also sad looking and wonder if Phelan was not right. I can not tell if your being funny / self depreciating or if those are your real feelings coming out. I too wondered about the father. Is he still around, does he care that you are so lost. I do not know if that is the right word I want to use or not. I have very mixed feelings about this post. I am going to print and pray for your kids. I hope you do not call your son a lump to his face, children have long memories. It seems other commenters agree with you and do not see anything but tongue in cheek. I am sorry but my first reaction was the same as Phelan. I hope you write some more and maybe then we will see you really were just tongue in cheek. Or not. Maybe I just missed the whole point, please enlighten me.

  2. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Sarah, it’s nice to see how you systematically approach the process of homeschooling when you encounter obstacles. You look at the problem on your own, you seek outside points of view, and then you go above and beyond: you consider the ways that your own biases might contribute to the situation; is this even really a problem? Or is this a situation I have a problem with right now, but maybe that means it is something I need to work on or give more study to?

    In that alone, you are providing one of the most important things your kids need: a model. You are demonstrating how to work at something, in a very sophisticated (if ad hoc) way, that you care about passionately – them.

    Like each of us, you are imperfect. But you are the world’s leading expert when it comes to your family. After you work your process, trust your senses and reasoning and decisions.

    Some kids need large (very uncomfortable for their goal oriented parents) tracts of time to let organic things (that are happening out of sight) to happen. Reading Penelope’s blog, I think you’ll get a sense of a recurrent theme – when all else fails, leave em alone. They’ll figure it out and show you the way.

    Kids naturally, at some point, if not pressured, figure out what fires them up. Then they can benefit greatly from help following that passion to where it leads. This is a very different concept of what parenting and education are than the one your father has. I have great sympathy for his appreciation of the importance of basics. But they will come. The ways to learn the basics are plentiful – they are scattered all along the unique paths that kids’ passions will follow if you let them.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I agree with points 1, 2, and 3.

    On its face it seems like you are suffering from imposter syndrome.

    This means you only value yourself from the way that others see you instead of seeing all the accomplishments and value in what you are doing.

    Writing down your thoughts and feelings on the matter can be a cathartic way of moving past this obstacle to becoming self-actualized.

    Keep working towards freeing your mind from the traditional mainstream mindset of what real learning is, and allow your children to authentically be who they are reading lumps and all. Keep encouraging new ideas and topics of interest.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  4. Jenn Gold
    Jenn Gold says:

    I can tell that the author is an awesome parent who is absolutely committed to her kids’ welfare. I totally understand that she had good intentions but boy does this sound manipulative and emotionally needy. It was helpful to learn of her struggles but we all need to take responsibility for developing our own intrapersonal skills so that our kids dont get weighed down inadvertently. The points were good but the methods not so much…

  5. Laura Martin
    Laura Martin says:

    Sounds like you are doing a great job. Sometimes it is hard to see it when you are in the trenches.
    You could also let him try:

    You can sign up as a coach and add your kids, or just create an account for them. It is totally free. They have lessons to teach Java Script. My 8 year old son loves it, but it is a real challenge. Not sure your son’s age. I cannot say enough good things about this site – you can learn kindergarten through college level math all free! Kids earn points and badges for completing levels or challenges.

    Thanks for the interesting post. Lots to think about. We have similar struggles at our house.

  6. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    Bravo mama! I had a very similar experience with my only child, 11 years old. He was so unmotivated and nothing I did helped him. He was dealing with feelings related to having his desire to learn extinguished by public school, which is why we made the big change. He was depressed but happy when left alone. I told him straight up that kids love to learn naturally and I asked him if he ever rememberred feeling that way. He smiled and said that he did remember. Itold him that my main goal in life at the moment was to relight his fire and he then told me that by me saying that, his fire was lit! After that he started looking for things to be interested in and took my advice on what I saw in him as gifts (music especially). He is now what I would call thriving and Ifeel like a pretty good mama myself :)

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I’ve thought of that so often as of late.

      It seems that when things are a bit wobbly I blame it all on doing this the alternative way. Or whatever way it is that is not the traditional or common way.

      When things go bad but you’re doing it just like everyone else then you think “oh, bad things happen. It’s hard. Let’s complain, have sympathy from others. Eat ice cream.”

      But when things go bad when you’re taking the less traveled path you think “is it because I rejected convention? I am so tired but I have to reconfigure my plan of attack. There’s no score card. How do I measure my progress? is being happy all on its own progress? I am so lonely. Where are my people? who is my people? thank god for the internet! I am not so lonely. I am going to eat ice cream and then continue to figure this out.”

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I agree. It’s interesting to me to see all the ways that parents doubt themselves. I am able to see, objectively, that the other parents really can relax about it. And even though I’m not so able to see that for my own self-doubt, I can see that objectively if the other parents can relax about their worries then it probably makes sense that I can, too. So I never get tired of reading what homeschoolers worry about.


  7. Kim
    Kim says:

    This is a really hard one for me. I am super-controlling which I get from my mother.
    I have tried to unschool so many times, knowing it is the right way but just can’t get myself to do it.
    I think the best advice was asking someone outside of family.
    The pathology behind a controlling nature is a strong desire to be accepted or approved. Asking family members who gave you the insecurity to be controlling in the first place, aren’t people you should ask. It will only give you more anxiety about unschooling.
    If I had a strong support group around me of unschoolers, it would be much easier for me.

  8. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    “My first son has no motivation to learn. He is politely content, a lump reading on my couch. ”

    This was my oldest. He wasn’t interested in “play dates” and I worried I was ruining him. This all turned around. He ended up choosing a really tough college because he wanted the challenge-(yuck-I would have been to lazy to do this at his age).

    He left college with a great job.He’s a commissioned Army officer and he has so many friends, I can’t keep up.

    And to think I spent soooo much time worrying that I was ruining him. I wish I’d been confident enough to unschool. Homeschooling was fun but unschooling would have been soo much better

  9. karelys
    karelys says:

    Often I struggle with how transparent I should be with my children. The truth is, I should just not try to hide from them. The toddler doesn’t want to potty train yet despite being more than ready but he can already tell (and asks) if he feels things are not okay with someone.

    Like when I am sad.

    But of course, that’s the first language they learn (body language, emotions, voice fluctuation, etc.).

    I think it’s perfectly fine to talk to your child and say “look, this is how I feel like a great mom. And you are being lazy by not finding ways to communicate with me when you’re okay and when you’re not. I care for your education because of xyz reasons. A good way to show me love is for you to figure out what you like so we can invest in that and develop it.”

    Often I remind myself that my relationship with my children is that, a relationship. And it should be a two way street (whatever that looks like at every stage of their development).

    They are not my project to develop and perfect so I can display and brag about later. We are in a relationship and sometimes my needs take a back seat but sometimes theirs do too because neither of us will thrive if it’s loop sided.

  10. Teryn
    Teryn says:

    I loved this! It’s very real to question ourselves in this homeschooling process. Props to you for figuring out how to connect with your son and supporting his passion!

  11. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    Coding is a great passion for kids….so long as they have an eye towards making money with it and it’s not a ruse to just sneaking in more video games or YouTube when no one is looking. My son just landed his second web development client. He’s 10 years old and his goal for 2015 is to make $2,000.

  12. redrock
    redrock says:

    I think the passion is overrated. Nothing blocks finding a passion more then constantly requiring passion. Some things are boring to do, some are interesting, some take a long time, but do we have to find passion in each and every one of them? That is exhausting! Some people find a topic which interests them so intensely that they will pursue it at any cost, others don’t and dabble in a lot of different things. I don’t think there is anything wrong with not having a “passion” – being interested in a few things is fine to have a happy and fulfilling life. Probably more so because a true passion often requires exclusiveness – its pursuit becomes more important than the small things which make life enjoyable.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      There is a fine line between passion and obsession. I agree that it is ok to go through life enjoying many things and not being truly specialized. I was given kids with passions, and it is not easy nor is it cheap. It is over-glorified in the media, and you never see the realities of the kid obsessed with creating art who can’t sleep at night or the kid actor who is always in character and the emotional problems that comes with it. I live this, it isn’t normal.

  13. mh
    mh says:

    Your child is not your pet.

    This will sound mean, but expecting your chid to perform “learning tricks” to satisfy your (or your father’s) expectations is… Not good.

    If your son were enrolled in school, and if a public school teacher were emotionally manipulating him the way you describe, would that be ok?

    Why not plop beside him with your book for ten minutes and let him know without words that he’s ok as he is? He’s picking up a lot about how to relate to women from his interactions with you, his mom. Will his future wife/ boss thank you for what you are teaching him?

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      I don’t think it is being mean, I would say this to anyone that I cared about in person and I’m sure you would too.

      I have some serious issues with the emotional manipulation of the son, but an even bigger issue with what seems to be no remorse by Sarah. It’s one thing to show our weaknesses as parents and our struggles homeschooling, and it is entirely another issue to think it is ok to cry in front of her child to guilt him into doing something to please her.

      I am not a perfect parent. My weaknesses are having a short fuse and a need to be alone a lot. But I am not ok if I make a mistake and have treated my children with less than the respect they deserve. Children are people.

      • Annie
        Annie says:

        I loved this post, it had me in tears because I can so relate.

        I find so many of thse comments to be very judgmental. She found a way to reach her child, to get him to verbalize what he’s interested in. That she showed him her emotions, and was very honest about why she needed to know this — even if it was safe in his head — is not manipulative. It’s communicating.

        Sarah accomplished not only finding out how she could help him further his interests; she also may have taught him a lesson on why it’s important to communicate with your team members even if your personality is fine with silence.

        Because they *are* team members – she is his teacher/mentor/whatever she wants to call it. And she can’t mentor him if he remains completely mum.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Thank you for your comment. I think you may be coming at this from the perspective of a person who considers it only natural and right to communicate verbally and out loud about motivations and goals.

          I’m a more private person who can be annoyed by the senseless jabbering of people who have to talk out loud in order to resolve their problems.

          A person imposing their communication preferences on another person through manipulation, tears, and guilt does not suddenly become ok if it’s within a parent-child relationship.

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