Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2009 Niche Article The Comparison Trap

The Comparison Trap

Do you ever find that you compare yourselves to other homeschooling families? I know that I certainly have!

I have several friends who manage to be all done with school by late morning (and all of them have more children than I do). I have now accepted the fact that school takes us until mid and sometimes even late afternoon, for several reasons. However, for years I struggled with how efficient they seemed to be and how lacking our family apparently was in that area.

When I walk into a homeschooling family’s home and their house is perfectly neat and orderly, even when they are not expecting company, I start feeling very insecure about my own house, which never seems to be completely clean and uncluttered all at once.

Perhaps there are completely different ways that you compare your self to other homeschooling families. My friend, Donna, gave me a completely different perspective, one I needed to hear because I had no idea! I was amazed that a clean, neat, organized homeschooling mom would feel inadequate at times, too. This is what Donna shared with me:

“I am a very clean, neat, organized house keeper. I cannot tell you how often when reading home school articles or talking to other moms that I feel I come under attack because I like my house clean. I know this must sound crazy, but even when I felt that it was right to keep my house clean I began to doubt and to believe that all of the other voices must be right! After all, they all seem to be saying the same thing. I was a failure at home educating my children if my house was clean, and the laundry was done! My priorities must not be correct if my house is in order. I have struggled with this dilemma for several years. Believe it or not I even went through a period where I purposefully let my house become a mess because I was called to a ‘higher good‘.

I can report that it did not work well for me. I could not function. School and time with my children actually fell farther down the ladder because I was unable to function in this type of environment, so I just kind of gave up on all of it!

God created some people to be very neat, clean, and organized. I can give a first hand testimony as to how listening to other people's opinions about things can really mess you up! I finally went back to cleaning. I HAVE to start my day that way. If things are not in order, I cannot function. Call it a flaw if you all want to, but my God made me this way!

As I said, this was new to me and something I really needed to hear. When I read Donna’s email, I felt convicted because I had not only envied, but perhaps inwardly judged, homeschooling moms who keep a home like the one she describes.

When I was preparing this article, I wrote several homeschooling friends and asked them about their struggles in this area. I received so much good input that I feel that I should put their names on this article, too.

One mom who is having some difficulty right now, shared her thoughts with me. This mom has children who are struggling learners and I can fully relate to her fears. She wrote, “I am fearful of their not being able to get a job or have a recognized diploma. I tend to just not be involved with other homeschool families whose children I know are excelling and mine aren't as I don't want them to feel inferior. I know God is in control and that He will direct and guide us as we wait on Him, hopefully with more faith than I am feeling right now.”

Some moms shared how the Lord helped them get past their “need” to compare themselves to other homeschooling families.

Laura Lee wrote that she has struggled because she does not have her children in nearly as many activities as other families do. However, she concluded by saying, “I pray about it and ask the Lord to show me if that is something He wants me to do with our family. If I don't hear from Him, I just take that as a no. I know I can't do everything, that God has a definite path for my family, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what others are doing.”

Sarah Duckstein wrote, “ I have to realize that we are not accountable to others' expectations or their own personal standards. It is God who called us to teach our children, so we are accountable to Him. Just as most of us have realized that different children have their own learning style that works well for them, I think different families have different "family styles" that shape how their homeschool works.”

Teressa Edwards wrote, “I spent many of the first years of our homeschool journey caught up in that "comparison trap." Basically, I never felt secure in what I was doing, so when I would see something other families were doing that looked better, I would switch gears and give it a try. Of course, trying new things in and of itself is not a bad thing, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I was trying to "keep up with the Jones" more than anything else. I did not have my children’s best interests at heart. Well, there came a point when the Lord convicted me that there was no other option but homeschooling for our family. The Lord used my dear husband to make me see that I needed to do things within our homeschool that were best for our family, not what was best for someone else. It has been a hard lesson to learn, and at times I still look longingly at the stories in the homeschool magazines, or see creative things another family is doing and am tempted to veer off of my set course. Keeping my eyes heavenward, and my heart with my children helps me stay on the path.”

One of my wonderful editors, Sarah Heywood, shared quite a bit from her heart with me about comparing ourselves to others. “Probably most moms fall into this in one area or the other. It starts in the nursery when we compare the development of our babies to others'. But as we get more experience with motherhood and more children, the comparisons tend to decrease. The same thing happens in homeschooling. It's in the early years of homeschooling, when we're the most insecure at what we're doing, that we tend to compare ourselves most to other homeschool moms. Confidence and experience take care of a lot of that. But, that's not to say it completely disappears.

I also find myself comparing myself to other moms who don't homeschool. I find myself envious of their always tidy homes and the time they have to themselves once all their children are in school. Often, they return to the workplace and are financially better off than we are, as a result. That's difficult for me. Their children seem to be doing well and I find myself wondering if I am sacrificing unnecessarily.

In the early years of homeschooling I spent a lot of time watching other moms. I looked at their teenagers and knew that was what I wanted for my boys once they reached that age. Their teens seemed extra polite, able to talk easily with adults, and had an innocence about them that I didn't see in other schooled teens. So, in order to have that down the road, I studied these moms. If they made a curriculum suggestion, I checked it out. If heir kids were going to a certain activity, mine were there too. Down the road, I wanted what they had, so I felt like I needed to do what they were doing.

That wasn't a completely bad idea. Example is a powerful teacher and as a new
homeschooling mom, I needed to learn by example. But as the years went by I began to feel more comfortable in my own homeschooling skin. I learned not to feel guilty about the things I couldn't provide for my boys, knowing that I was giving them something more valuable - my time..

It's a good idea to watch other moms as we learn how to homeschool. It doesn't hurt to implement some of the same things they do. That's how we find out what works and doesn't work for our own family. It's when we think that our family, our children, and our homeschooled days need to mimic others' that we run into trouble. God has never asked that of us. He has simply asked us to obey His leading in choosing to homeschool. The Bible instructs us to ask for wisdom if we lack it. In light of that, it's a good idea to pray about things we'd like to see in our children and in our own homeschool. Ask the Lord what He would have us to do. His plan for us is individual and much greater than anything we - or somebody that we are comparing ourselves to - could ever come up with.”

No matter how much others may think we have it together, most of us moms will, at some time or another, compare ourselves to others homeschooling families. The truth, however, is that God made each family as unique as He made each individual. No two families will homeschool exactly alike. God choose our particular children to be in our particular family. And it goes without saying that God is infinitely wiser than we are.

On the flip side, we need to be very careful not to make others feel inadequate for non-sin issues. Perhaps there is an area of our homeschooling where we feel that we really have it together. While, it is wonderful that something is working so well for our family, we need avoid pushing the idea on others and making them feel that they don’t measure up because they don’t do things our way.

Obviously, if we have sin issues in our life, we need to correct them. If we are watching television or on the computer all day instead of schooling and interacting with our children, we need to make some changes. If we are grumpy towards our children all the time, we need to work on our attitude (and perhaps get more sleep!). If we are not spending time in God’s Word and seeking Him for guidance in our homeschooling, then we need to recognize that our homeschooling life would go much better if we lean on Him for direction instead of trying to do it ourselves.

Sherry Newman shared several verses with me that were very helpful in preparing this article. One was,“God has promised to equip me for what He's called me to do (There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. I Corinthians. 10:13).

While we want to avoid the comparison trip, that does not mean that we can not learn from others. Another verse was “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. Proverbs 27:17” God can and does use our sisters in Christ to sharpen us. However, after we pray about it and talk it over with our husband, if we do not believe the Lord is leading us in that particular direction, we need to be content. James 3: 16 tells us, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”

While I was preparing this article, my pastor, Doug DeFord, shared something in a sermon that I thought was very applicable to this article and so I quoting him as best I can remember, “There is always a place for self evaluation. However, if we focus only on our failures, we will not run the race well. We should not compare ourselves to others but only to Christ.”

I would like to conclude with something Christine Scott wrote. Christine’s husband, Jim, went to be with the Lord a few years ago and she is raising three little boys by herself. “My first thought was a quote Jim once told me, 'Comparison is the root of discontentment.' I know that when I begin to compare, I get too hard on the boys, I get easily frustrated and the atmosphere in our home in not peaceful. I move away from what God had instructed me to do and try what worked for someone else instead, I know it makes me feel like I am not good enough and this attitude passes down to the boys. Comparison is flat out dangerous for I begin to meditate on lies. And one lie leads to another and before I know it, I am ready to give up my freedom to homeschool. How I avoid it? Check with my principal, My Lord, before I try what another homeschool mom does. God hand-picked me for to be my children's teacher and God hand-picked them to be my students. Another thing I catch myself at is comparing the children to each other. Then God brings to mind an article I read about each child being a different kind of arrow in a quiver. In Ladies Bible Study, we have been studying about being vessels of honor and we learned that some of us are made to be waterpots and others delicate vases but each of us has a purpose in His divine plan. I am trying to teach the kids this too as they compare themselves too.”

May God bless you as you homeschool your children in your own unique way.

(A big thank you to all you wonderful homeschooling moms who helped me write this article!)