She looks at me plaintively. Her nervous energy betrays an unspoken
motive behind the conversation. I know the look well. This isn’t the
first time I’ve been cornered at a conference by a homeschool mother.
The conversation always starts with a harmless question about what type
of curriculum my mom uses. But then the questions become more personal
and probing until finally, subtlety is thrown to the wind, and The
Question comes bursting out:
“Josh, I just HAVE to ask you. Does your mother ever just LOSE it? I
mean, want to pull her hair out and GIVE UP?”
I can’t help but laugh when I think about it. All moms seem to suffer
from what I call the “perfect family phobia.” This is the nagging fear
that other families are perfect, and something is dreadfully wrong with
your own. To have people suspect that my family is perfect, or even near
perfect, is hilarious. I guess you can blame it on my dad, Gregg Harris,
who has spent years giving homeschooling workshops. Whenever someone
gets up and speaks, those in the audience have the tendency to assume,
even subconsciously, “This person has it all together. And if I would
just try hard enough, I could achieve perfection, too!”
Even speakers make the mistake of believing that other speakers have
“The Answer for All that Ails You.” We’ve done this in our own family. I
remember years ago when my mother heard a “Focus on the Family”
broadcast where Dr. Dobson told of his family’s practice for encouraging
good table manners. Whenever a member of the Dobson family violated some
rule of table etiquette, they had to get up, leave the meal, and sit in
the bathroom for five minutes. My mom, who evidently thought our
family’s table manners were less than ideal, promptly adopted this
tradition for our family.
It didn’t quite work. Dad and I ended up spending more time in the
bathroom than any other room in the house. After three or four days when
my mom would call us to a meal, we’d just walk to the bathroom. Needless
to say, we learned that what worked wonders for the Dobsons didn’t
necessarily work for the Harrises!
I suspect something similar has taken place in homeschool families that
have attended my dad’s workshops over the years. Mothers go home after
hearing my dad speak and try to implement every jot and tittle. Some of
it works wonderfully, but maybe some of it ends up like me and Dad in
the bathroom. So the first thing that mom assumes is that “There’s
something wrong with me. This works for Mrs. Harris because she’s
perfectly organized, patient, loving, kind, and the model teacher.”
And on her good days she is. But let me set the record straight: my
mother is not perfect. She has her bad days, along with her good days.
The problem that can arise after a day of hearing a homeschool speaker
pontificate on everything from phonics to discipline, is that you can
get an unrealistic view of reality. You got to see Mr. or Mrs.
Homeschool Speaker on their good day. Just remember that.
If your home school doesn’t look like the cover of The Teaching Home
each day, don’t get discouraged. But at the same time, we shouldn’t
swing to the opposite extreme of looking for the bad in others to
somehow justify our weaknesses.
I’ll never forget the response Sue Welch, the editor of The Teaching
Home, gave to a person who asked why the covers of her magazine always
seemed to picture a “perfect family.”
“If you were told that tens of thousands of people would be ‘visiting’
your home, wouldn’t you dress in your best clothes and put your best
foot forward?” Mrs. Welch asked. “When we feature a family on our cover,
we want to help show them at their best.”
Maybe Mrs. Welch could sell more magazines with articles like “All the
Dirt on Home-School Leaders in Your State” or how about “Hidden Cameras
Show Home-School Moms Being Impatient During Spelling Lessons,” but I
doubt you’ll see such headlines anytime soon. She’s made it a policy to
glory in the good, not pander to our society’s “Inside Edition” craving
for a display of humankind’s baseness.
And shouldn’t that be our policy, too? Shouldn’t we be rejoicing with
the success of others instead of delighting when they fail because it
somehow alleviates the guilt over our own shortcomings? Romans 12:15
says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
And in II Corinthians we read that those who “compare themselves among
themselves” are not wise. It’s as if God is saying, “Don’t worry about
trying to keep up with the Joneses—you have enough trouble living up to
Runners training to race are constantly reminded to keep their eyes on
the finish line—not on the others running beside them. Keeping that
instruction in mind could do us all some good. When we take our eyes off
the goal of serving God to our fullest ability, we either end up beating
ourselves up over somebody else’s higher achievements or nastily
rejoicing in someone else’s inferiority.
On our bad days, let’s remember to turn to God for the strength to go
on. And on our good days, let us humbly remember that anything good in
our lives is to His credit.
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