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Perfect-Family Phobia

By Joshua Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #9, 1995.

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Joshua Harris


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 My standards.”

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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