It’s important to me that my kids know how to farm. My husband is from a family that’s been farming forever, and his level of knowledge is incredible. The kids are lucky to be able to receive such a gift.
But both kids hate farm work. It’s dirty. It’s constantly an emergency. Animals are unpredictable and they take a lot of practice to handle well. I’m so proud that my kids can deliver a baby animal safely, herd cattle, and bale hay. But it’s probably because to me it’s special to grow up on a farm—because I grew up in a city. I love the farm.
So much of what I want for my kids is stuff I would have wanted for myself, like the freedom to read whatever I want all day long, and take violin lessons from a young age. Conversely, the things I’m very secure about—like my IQ or how well-read I am—are things I don’t bother about in my kids.
The life that is true to each of us comes so easily that we forget that our life is not something most other people want. For me, being a high achiever is huge. I only want to do stuff that I can be great at, and I don’t like what most people call fun. For me, fun is working hard to achieve a huge goal. I have always been very aware of how my kids can excel and how I can set them up for big success. It’s taken me until now to realize that maybe they don’t even want that. Maybe I should really tone it down.
I’m not alone. Most people I coach about homeschooling decisions have the same problem I have. It’s just that it’s much easier for me to see it in other people than in myself. Most homeschooling worries I hear are actually parents worrying about making sure their children have the type of childhood that would have been best for the parent. Which, actually, has nothing to do with homeschooling.
We just can’t help it.
Strangers say crazy stuff about homeschooling. And I can ignore it, because I’ve made a successful career for myself bucking trends and being a trendsetter. I’m comfortable there. Except when the stranger asks about math. Then I get anxious, because I was bad at math. So I worry a lot that my kids won’t know enough math to feel comfortable in the world.
Here’s how the conundrum plays out for other parents:
If you are gay, you needed a gay-friendly city when you were growing up, but it’s statistically unlikely that your kids will have that problem now.
If you grew up in a war zone you will need to be in a stable environment now, but your kids don’t have that same need for stability.
If your parents never believed you could play piano, you can’t make up for that by giving your kids piano lessons.
But we do that all the time. We give kids opportunities we wish we had. But that’s not what kids need. Kids need choices. And after providing a bunch of choices, we need to step back and let the kid be who they are.
Alex Rodriguez is great at practicing. Even as a kid, he practiced baseball with more focus and determination than other kids. No one had to teach him how to be a great athlete. He was born wanting to practice.
Warren Stephens is driven to make money. No one had to teach him how to do it—winning in business comes naturally to him. He won’t worry about whether or not his kids are great at business because they don’t need to be.
Sally Mann is obsessed with documenting Southern family life. She made art even as she was raising three kids. And she faced down child pornography charges. No one needed to show her a path toward art. She would have found that path no matter what.
I’m convinced that each kid is driven to be who they are. Who we want them to be, or expect them to be, is a distraction to them.
So tell me: what are the ways you steer your kids to make up for the childhood you would have wanted for yourself?