The Real Distraction

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The desperate questions we homeschool moms toss back and forth amongst ourselves. I’ve asked them one hundred times before, “What do you do with your little ones while the older ones are learning? How do you stay organized? How do you get anything done?

We ask it in our communities and co-ops, over the dull roar of one hundred kids with biblical appellations. One Mom is shouting, “Hosea Jeremiah! Don’t you dare!” and three unrelated children have turned in response to the sound of their name being called. We lean in closer, “Seriously, what do you do!?! EVERYTHING is falling apart.

We ask in the quiet sanctuary of our local Chik-fil-a’s, yoga pants parked on the pleather booth seats, while we sip milkshakes and watch the lineup behind the plexiglass window go berserk. “What do you do? What should I do? I feel like a disaster, oh no, am I a disaster?” 

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With a meager 4 years of homeschooling under my belt that no longer fits, I can say with some confidence that there is no infallible 7 step Plan to Peaceful Perfect Homeschooling. This is because our homeschools contain gaggles of progeny made up of tiny sinful humans comprised of all our worst faults and annoying habits in all their second generation glory. (Don’t even get me started on the leadership!) We cannot organize our humanity away. Homeschooling is a joyful, wonderful, messy, chaotic thing. Oftentimes it comes with toddlers attached, so multiply the previous statement by a million.

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Its hard to teach with littles around. You had set goals, you had a schedule, you printed such lovely things to use. You pinned that picture of a gorgeous montessori space with the delicate shaft of light flowing through the room <insert children, outrageous expectation and false hopes here>. You read that terrific book by that homeschooling mother of thirty seven children who always does laundry on Monday no. matter. what.  It was all going so well until you stopped planning it and tried doing it. Your family showed up and ruined it. You yelled and then you cried. Then the toddlers picked up the mangled corpse of your expectations, colored on it with permanent marker and then flushed it down the toilet.

On the eve of my first day as a homeschooling motherload of awesomeness, I wrote out that oft touted John Trainer, M.D. quote, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” I taped it to my planner as my rallying cry for my first school year.

Children.

Children required organic meal plans, schedules, mommy and me classes, vitamins, story time, heaps of books and lots of laminated chore charts. Children are the most important WORK. I was a Stay at Home Mom. Lets get a big schedule together so I can show my WORK.  I proceeded to hush my tasmanian toddler and fussy baby so my older children could learn. I spent months in a downward spiral of frazzled nerves and empty bottles of whiteout until I landed in a motherload of awfulness.

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Then one day I gave up.

I threw out the expectations and invited happiness back in. We made messes. We tossed out the schedule and adopted a rhythm that worked for our family.  We didn’t do the laundry every single Monday. I stopped combing blogs for one size fits all answers for our home. Instead they became springboards of encouragement for greater research into the ever changing chemistry of our family.  I stopped comparing and started caring. As the elder children advanced in their classes, I stopped treating my toddlers like distractions by scheduling distractions for them. Instead, I invited them to come and learn alongside us. I encouraged their wonder and curiosity.

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And you should know that this is never perfect, far from it. Team A has learned that school always involves Team B. Math goes on even if the toddler is in full on tantrum mode. The blocks of time that make up our day press on. Language Arts could very well happen next to a giant pile of laundry.  I was thankful when our first grade curriculum called for “Science with Water” because I knew we’d finish science every day, even if it was in the bathtub.

The preschoolers get the chance every day to learn alongside their big brothers. The big brothers get the chance every day to die to self and understand that they are not the center of the universe. They know that family takes commitment and love and sacrifice and ear plugs. The other day our six year old commented, “Being a Dad will be the hardest and best job in the world, I think.”

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As our school days get longer, it takes a firm resolve to preserve wonder for my children. There are days when I have to renew the commitment to take things slow with my little ones. To ignore the constant calls for perfection from the world around me. The four year old doesn’t care about big brother’s latin homework. He cares about stories on his Mama’s lap. The two year old does not care what the house looks like. He cares about kisses and cuddles and jumping in puddles. My soul does not care what the daily agenda is. My soul cares about spending time in God’s word.

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There will be bad days. Very bad days. Days rife with opportunity— the chance to get on my knees and humbly beg forgiveness from my children for letting my pride get in the way of my loving them well.

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We are in this for the long haul. This road where life, love and learning mingle together, inseparable. And still I am tempted to ask the questions. Because for me, those questions have little to do with a truly peaceful home and a lot to do with perceptions of myself as a mother, homemaker and teacher.

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This crazed rush to prove ourselves as homeschool moms? THAT IS THE REAL DISTRACTION. Its not crying babies, or laundry, or curious toddlers, or whining children, or endless To-Do lists. Its that devil dialect that drums a tattoo pattern of doubt across our days, tricks us into thinking we are insufficient, lures us into dissatisfaction and blind desire for optimal conditions.

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I’ve stopped looking for perfection. I am content to practice. We practice a lot.

We practice habit training. We practice loving each other well. We practice forgiveness and laughter. We practice balance and second chances. We practice patience with tiny people hell bent on ruining our morning. We practice learning together.  And failure? Failure is just an opportunity for more practice.

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15 thoughts on “The Real Distraction

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! I needed these words–thank you so much! My kids are 8, 3, 2, and 1 so this is my life. 🙂 Thanks again!

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  2. Love this!! Such an encouragement. I’ve been so anxious with trying to figure out what to do with the toddlers and frequently get impatient but yes they should be included! Thank you!!!

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  3. Great post. FYI: the quote “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work” is actually by John Trainer, M.D. NOT C. S. Lewis. I know many would make the same mistake, but often times than not homeschoolers are scrutinized more harshly for not properly citing something or would be criticized for not bothering to do proper research. Hope you aren’t offended that I pointed it out, but I figured if I were to correct someone’s writing what better than a piece about learning from mistakes. 😊

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    1. Well as President George Washington once said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Thanks for letting me know! I made the correction above and linked to an article with Dr. Trainer explaining what happened to his quote. I actually had someone give me a gift once with the quote (attributed to Lewis) on it. I had no reason to doubt its accuracy and in my mind, the quote always belonged to Lewis. Thanks for pointing it out! Have a great day 🙂

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  5. Wow. The Lord knew I needed these words today. We are starting school (again) on Monday and ours are 7, 6, 4, 3, and baby due in November. Thank you for the encouragement and reminders!

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  6. Very well written. kids are such a blessing and a joy. I was thinking of this line you said, “I stopped treating my toddlers like distractions by scheduling distractions for them.” This came to mind today, as we were unloading our van. We just came home from vacation and I was going to let them relax with a movie as me and my husband unloaded our van. But instead I had them all help. They all grabbed what they could. We were a team unit. It felt so rewarding me and my little army 🙂

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  7. Thank you–I so needed this. I love having six at home with me all the time, but I struggle with not measuring up to the rampant, Pinterest-driven perfection veneer that seems to be taking over so many corners of the homeschool world. I struggle with having chaotic homeschool days. I want to love just being with my children but so often feel as though that is ‘not enough.’ Thank you, thank you. Let us not despise the days of small things (Zech. 4:10)!!

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  8. What a great article! I have six I homeschool, my youngest in that lovely toddler phase and my oldest is fourteen and trying to learn algebra. I often look over to see him with ear buds in listening to music to drown out toddler noises and my doing math out loud to my six year old. What ever it takes to keep them all learning. It is encouraging to know I am not the only mom ever to have to tell my own children I’m sorry for my own behavior. But they, too, need to know that we are humans with feelings and emotions. I think it helps them apologize to us when necessary, doesn’t it? They are certainly our most important work. We are training the next generation of adults, who may be in charge of something real important someday and need that strong foundation we are in charge of giving. Thank you for the insight into real life.

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