It is extremely difficult to parent without comparison. It starts with that growth chart in the pediatrician’s office, and it continues through each developmental milestone. The same can be said in our homeschool. We use learning assessments that gauge the effectiveness of our teaching and test to show mastery in subject matter.
Setting the Bar of Expectations
Not all comparison is bad; without a bar to gauge ourselves, we can feel lost. The trouble begins when we fail to set the bar for our own school in the right place.
I watched a documentary about pole vaulting where French gold-medalist, Renault Lavillene, cleared his Olympic record-setting vault. The man used a noodle of a stick to throw his entire body twenty feet into the air. It was amazing to watch Lavillene take home the gold, but I doubt very much that he began with the bar set at 20 feet. There were years of lower jumps made the track when no one was watching.
His success at the twenty-foot vault was obtained by a million tweaks and changes—growth and experience on much less impressive heights. The same can be said for our homeschool. If we gauge our success against the wrong measure, we will fail to hit our goal and grow discouraged. Comparison will make the twenty foot mark our goal, now!
Behind each success, there are thousands of hours of stretching, falling, and learning through our mundane days:
- those lean years when you sacrifice to make ends meet
- writing to an audience of one
- cutting everyone's hair yourself
- spending hours in long discussions with little ones
These are the moments that move your family towards gold.
Two Ways to Look at Your Long-Term Goals
There are two ways to look at long-term goals.
- That is impossible. I’ll never get there!
- That’s amazing! How close can I come to that?
If I allow myself to fall into comparison, I will obsess over where I have fallen short of some of the goals I set for our school.
Like a new vaulter, I see other moms clearing the pole while I keep knocking it down.
I go to a homeschool convention and see the fluid motion of the homeschool conference speaker. Her clean, freshly colored hair and smart haircut remind me that my last hair cut was given by my husband. (I held my curls out and said, “Could you just snip the ends off for me?”)
When I compare from the outside, the bar is telling me I don't measure up. I don’t see
- the years that speaker spent living a frugal, quiet, and faithful life from which to draw her illustrations and wisdom
- the hours she spent praying for me before her trip
- the concern and research she put into every point of her presentation
Then at times, the tables are turned. For example, a friend recently commented about how quietly our kids sit in church. First, I laughed! She sees the bar achieved, while I, on the other hand, know my kids and the process it took to reach that bar. She didn’t see the two years our children did not attend Sunday School because we felt led to teach our kids how to sit quietly. As homeschoolers, church was the only place we had to really practice being quiet. She did not see our frequent talks outside of service or my frustration at our sometimes slow process.
When you set your bar, don't look only at the end results and fail to account for the long years of training and diligence. Reaching your goal won't come without discipline and effort.
This School Year, Don’t Set the Bar Twenty Feet in the Air
Don’t aim for college from Kindergarten. The bar is a guide; you get to set it yourself.
- Set goals that will serve your family this year.
- Set goals that will keep you on track and encouraged.
- Ask your kids what they want to accomplish or learn about this year.
- Is there a behavior you want to focus on?
Write down your measurable goal, and break down how you are going to get there. Do the next thing in your Instructor's Guide, knowing that in the long run, these small steps will get you to the final destination. Don’t let comparison keep you from embracing and thriving in whatever season you are in.