Why can't I live up to my own standards?

When I signed on to home school I envisioned days full of creative projects that taught my children without them even knowing it. We'd build things, act out plays, and spend hours cuddling together with good books. The children would zip happily through skill-based work and then embrace all the fun stuff I planned. And, of course, the fragrance of home baked goodies would fill a clean house, scrubbed by my compliant children who possessed a strong work ethic and a great attitude about chores.

And sometimes we do have that kind of day.

But more often we don't.

You see child #1 would be thrilled to spend her whole day in creative expression, wandering from one learning experience to the next. But child #2 would rather have a list so he can work hard, check off his assignments, and be free to play hockey in the driveway. And then there's child #3 who needs extra attention to learn to read. I've spent hours doing exercises with him to help the two sides of his brain communicate, which means I focus on just one child and not the other three during those times. Oh, and Child #4 loves to learn—as long as he is getting all of my attention, but he struggles with independent work.

Hours of happy reading? Half the children could probably be still and listen to me for days, especially if I let them draw or build with blocks while I read. The other half often think their bodies HAVE to move after 30 minutes. How do I balance it?

And then there's teaching according to learning styles. My athletic son memorizes anything twice as fast if I let him wiggle while he does it, which of course drives my daughter crazy, because she can't concentrate with any motion around her. Sometimes she goes off to work by herself, but she's also the social one who learns best when she feels emotionally connected to the larger unit. ACK! They usually end up fighting and then I get mad and my happy home school dreams disintegrate before my eyes.

I hear you can save time by combining students in certain subjects. I've done that and it works. Sometimes. But sometimes it doesn't. Child #1 learns math visually and flourishes with Math U See, but child #2 hates it. He's crazy about Professor B's Power math, though. I tried again with children #3 and #4, but wouldn't you know it? Their learning styles are completely opposite as well!

A speaker at a conference said they finish their schoolwork in 2 hours a day. How come we never do?

Sometimes I think I'll go crazy trying to meet each individual need. Almost daily I hit this place where I simply don't have it in me to spend one more minute on home schooling—and usually the children don't either. But when this time comes, why do I always have more schoolwork left dangling on my list, unfinished?

This whole home schooling thing just isn't what everyone told me it would be.

Or is it?

My mind wanders back to the important things—like the time my young daughter plopped down in the middle of the dirty laundry piles to ask me what she needed to do to be with Jesus forever. She accepted Christ into her heart right there next to the smelly socks, and then rushed off to tell her younger brother how to be saved. Would that have happened had I sent her to the local preschool?

And then there was the day the children spent the entire morning working together to build a clubhouse in the backyard. All those crazy learning styles somehow blended and they couldn't wait to show me their creation. They escorted me into the main room of their makeshift house where they'd placed a soft chair, blankets, snacks, and our read-aloud. We spent that cool November afternoon cuddled together there sharing a good book.

Last week I laughingly stopped my 8 year old and required that he only ask ONE question per page of the Bible story book he read to me. I marvel that he has such a thirst to understand God and his people. Would anyone answer those questions at school? Would they nurture his spiritual hunger?

This week my teenage daughter decided to redecorate her room. I gave her minimal bookwork and counted the hours toward home economics. As she primed and painted she listened to the Chronicles of Narnia. She later told her friends, "I was getting bored with the same old Bible stories, but as I listened to tales of Aslan this week, I felt closer to God and the stories meant more."

Today at the hockey rink, my oldest son gave away most of his chances to score, trying instead to ensure that his little brother ended the season with confidence. Would he have had that kind of care if they'd been separated from each other for hours each day in a traditional school setting? Maybe. Maybe not. I know we wouldn't have had as many conversations about how his encouragement shapes the confidence of his younger brothers. We wouldn't have spent as many hours in discussion of great books that teach kindness and integrity. We would have missed more devotions than we do now.

I think it's time to revisit all those standards I set for myself. I'm in my eighth year of home schooling. You'd think by now I would realize that the important stuff happens incidentally, as I stay the course God placed me upon. It's easy for me to think that our life is about home schooling instead of letting home schooling be about our lives.

Real life isn't school. It's the day-to-day living we do. While curriculum and learning methods are helpful on my journey, not a single one of them will give us the perfect home school. It doesn't exist.

I believe the Lord wants me to find the balance—to let home schooling be a reasonable part of our day instead of the whole focus. Some of the best learning happens without anything that looks academic. God knows what my children need and when. I should trust Him to lead me! Some days the books need to be set aside so we can learn real life lessons and I shouldn't feel guilty about that. He takes my meager efforts, unfinished to do lists, and less than exciting lesson plans, and somehow uses them. He's with my family on the days we fuss and on the days we show extraordinary grace. He's there whether we're buried in workbooks or shoveling the neighbor's driveway.

This job isn't about me, how well I do it, or creating the perfect home. It's about God, His plans for my children, and His ability to shape them for His glory. As I stay obedient to this wild, crazy, insane job He's given me, He simply asks me to follow. Then He makes something beautiful from the ashes of my effort.

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A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us.