You’ve just met the perfect homeschool family—again! Their 17 children are well groomed, orderly and well mannered. The six-year-old plays Rachmaninoff with ease, the oldest speaks twelve languages fluently and got a perfect 1600 on the SAT—on the first try! All the children in between dazzle you with knowledge of science and the arts. The mother bakes whole wheat bread for every meal, and serves wholesome, delicious, organic food for just $50 a month. You shrivel up inside, sure that you are an utter failure and your children are damaged for life. We’ve all been there.
It’s time for a reality check.
Check #1: We all put on our best face in public. The truth is that no home is perfect. All children have sin natures and sometimes exasperate their parents to levels that make them want to pull their hair out. Every parent “loses it” sometimes. Scissors and hairbrushes are regularly misplaced. People get tired, tempers get frayed, memory fails and children give embarrassingly ignorant answers when quizzed by outsiders. Yes, even in that “perfect” family.
Check #2: Our neighbor’s strength tends to stand out in contrast to our weakness. We may have trouble being organized at home and marvel at another family’s system of organization. If our children are weak in science, we cringe when a science whiz comes our way. If a child we meet is a natural peacemaker, the fact we have bickering siblings in our home looms larger and we feel like failures.
We forget that the people we observe probably have weaknesses in our areas of strength. It doesn’t cross our mind that perhaps the science genius in that other family cannot write, cook, serve or faithfully pray, as might our child. We don’t notice that the sweet spirited girl we admire may have a bedroom in constant chaos or that she can’t multiply. We don’t see the bread baking mom in her outburst of anger when children interrupt her work. The truth is, we all have strong areas and weak areas and we all need God’s grace.
Check #3: Different children are made for different purposes, all equally valuable. God certainly put the right children into the right families. The future God planned for one child requires an easy grasp of higher math, the future for another does not. One child needs skill and knowledge for cooking with the most basic ingredients, because their future may be far from an American-style grocery store. Another may become an ambassador, rarely cooking at all, but needing to know how to relate sensitively and graciously to many types of people and perhaps in many languages.
The truth is, God knows our children’s futures. He made them with all the gifts and interests they will need, and will provide them with the experiences needed to fulfill His purposes. Our charge is to stay in tune with Him and with each child, rather than trying to conform Sally to the image of Sue.
Check #4: Sometimes we adopt the world’s values by default, and so we improperly value one attribute over another. Our culture conditions us to believe that knowledge, talent and looks = success. But is the daughter who has a heart of compassion, who loves her friend at the nursing home and does the dishes with a song on her lips of less value than the Pulitzer Prize winner? Is the child who learns languages easily and is a whiz with numbers of less worth than the child who charms every stranger he meets? Who says so? Why?
In pro-life circles, I sometimes hear the argument that we should not abort babies because the aborted child might be another Einstein or Pasteur. That line of reasoning disturbs me. If the aborted child’s alternate future was mental retardation, would she have been of less eternal value? The truth is, we need a God’s-eye view of life, treasuring the preciousness of each person and the value each reveals to “eyes that see” and “ears that hear.”
Someday, we will see the hall of fame in heaven. Surely some names there will mirror those in history books and the Who’s Who volumes. But I rather suspect that many of the names will be “nobodies” here on earth—prayer warriors who sweep at Wal-Mart, loving souls whose brains function more slowly than others, everyday people who lay down their lives in a million small sacrificial ways to serve and honor the God they love and the people around them. These too, are the names honored in eternity.
Check #5: Maybe we see something that really does need attention in our home. Perhaps our children really do need training not to interrupt, or to understand polynomials. Maybe it’s time to humbly ask for advice from a parent (or child) with strengths in those areas. The truth is, in the Kingdom, we are created to need each other. No one is sufficient unto himself. Our children need to see us model a teachable spirit.
II Corinthians 10:12 says, “…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” How do we suffer from these unwise comparisons?
The Pedestal Effect: We put some people on pedestals and are afraid to approach that “perfect” mom who, in reality, needs friendship and encouragement, too. We also place unattainable expectations on that person on the pedestal. Then, when we know them better, we see their human frailties, and they fall off that pedestal with an unpleasant “bump” for all involved. If we do not get to know them, then they remain frozen as statues, bearing little resemblance to the real person.
Blurred Vision: If we spend our time staring at ourselves, we suffer eyestrain and fuzzy vision, and our enemy keeps us mired in discouragement and hopelessness. We wallow in vague uneasiness that we ought be being doing something different, though we are not quite sure what.
Well, the enemy is right about one thing: We cannot change ourselves. But maybe we don’t need to change ourselves! If we keep our eyes fixed on God, He will show us what needs to be changed and He will do the work in us in a way that builds hope and shows us clearly what is required on our part. He will provide the power we need to change.
Discontent: Comparing our family to others robs the pleasure we should have with our own families. We lose sight of the unique people with unique gifts God gave us. Our children never quite measure up and satisfy us. We wish our wife or husband was more like so and so. Our hasty response may be to whirl through our house, setting up a boot camp regimen in an endeavor to replicate the “perfect” home. In the process, we thwart relationships, family fun and happy memory making. Our children or spouses, in turn, come to resent the people to whom they are being unfavorably compared.
Take a Deep Breath: Next time those “perfect” homeschoolers pass our way, let’s take a deep breath. Admire what is admirable. Ask questions and see if there is something to learn. Bring what we hear to God and to our spouse. Ask if there is anything we see in others that would help our home and the people in it fulfill God’s uniquely tailored purposes.
Cry Freedom: Then, let us do as William Wallace did, when, fighting for Scottish independence from England, he rallied human spirits with the cry “FREEDOM!” We cry out freedom to learn from others without having to be just like them. Freedom to revel in the unique calling on our lives and family members. Freedom to be who God made us, and freedom to trust God to design the unique and perfect future for us and our children.
Derri Smith and husband Bill are authors of “Conversation with Character” and “Quotes with Character,” curriculum for homeschoolers, available from Sweet Home Press, Joelton, TN, www.sweethomepress.com.
Derri Smith and her husband, Bill, are authors of Conversation with Character and Quotes with Character, curriculum for homeschoolers, available from Sweet Home Press, Joelton, TN, www.sweethomepress.com.