Sometimes I get so discouraged when I read an encouraging book about homeschooling. The ideas for this or that unit study or discipline technique and the other creative blending of subjects and age level all sound so easy on paper, and a quick look at the well-groomed family in the picture on the back of the book seems to prove that homeschooling is manageable and produces instant results.

Reality sets in, however, when on one of my worst days I step back and look at my brood of children, wearing stained clothing, tussling to get elbow-room at the table, and whining about the assignment at hand, and I begin to wonder what it is these authors have over me.  Pondering this one day, I came to the conclusion that it’s not that the authors are trying to hide anything; it’s just that people don’t tend to write down their experiences when they’re failing.

Therefore, I would like to go on record with my confession that our homeschool is frequently not all that it could be.  I fail regularly to keep my children on a schedule that will ensure they cover all the subjects they are studying. They lose their schoolbooks. There are days when I get on the Internet determined to print out a couple of workbook pages and emerge from the office an hour later to discover that the kids have scattered and schoolwork is the last thing on their minds.

Now at this point many would argue that the worst day being homeschooled is still better for a child than the best day in an institutional classroom setting. But the fact remains that, to be perfectly honest, there are days when I could do better.

There are times when I know what to do and yet find myself shrugging and saying, “Eh, but I don’t want to.” And there are times when I flat-out, unequivocally, fail. I cringe even as I write the word. I am well-trained by a society that worships success, therefore it is natural to fear failure. Why is it that I try to hide my failure? Why do excuses spring so readily to my lips to explain the inevitable shortcomings of my children? I think we homeschoolers feel that we have to defend what we’re doing to society at large, and that makes us afraid to admit that we can make mistakes. We fear a chink in the armor will be turned into a weapon by suspicious relatives (the ones who greet our children at family gatherings with pop quizzes to make sure they haven’t been too badly damaged). 

Let’s face it: nothing works perfectly all the time. At least, nothing involving humans does, because it’s our nature to make mistakes. And therein lies the beauty of homeschooling. Although we should each strive to do our best, we can use even our failures to teach our children. I’d be the first to say mine know more about that particular lesson than they do about the Civil War.

When things go terribly wrong at our house, the first thing we do (after mopping up the tears) is to examine the situation and figure out what went wrong so we can learn to do it differently. I constantly remind my children that they are supposed to make mistakes in their schoolwork—it’s part of the learning process. Just because you feel like a failure doesn’t mean you are. If I could only turn the words around and listen to them myself, I think I wouldn’t get so easily discouraged. Homeschooling is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done (ranks right up there with childbirth, but it lasts longer), so why do I beat myself up when I’m less than perfect at it?

There are three main ways that I get help when I’m feeling overwhelmed with failure.

Write It Down

I regularly write down the things that are bothering me and then address each one separately. I pretend I’m a homeschooling consultant hired to solve someone else’s problems. Some problems turn out to be a simple matter of planning ahead; others are more complex and deep-rooted and will take time to work through; but if I can solve even one or two of my problems, I’ll have more room on my plate for the tougher ones and won’t feel so overwhelmed.