Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
Recently I chatted with another homeschooling mom at a friend’s baby shower.
Talking about our kids, our lives, our homeschool days, she then lowered her voice in a confession:
“I really need to be more disciplined, though. I should get up early before the kids, and I really should exercise more.”
Ah, yes. I know the sentiment well.
It’s the word that sucks the bliss right out of living, that makes us–and our kids–feel like “less than.”
I’ve had plenty of “should-attacks” of my own:
I should be more patient.
I should do more structured lessons.
I should sign the kids up for music lessons.
And we often point our shoulds in the direction of our little people as well:
You should do your math right now.
You should not treat me this way.
You should be further ahead–you’re so far behind.
Where do the shoulds come from?
Guilt. I’ve struggled with it for much of my life, and I’m not even sure where it began.
These days I’ve gotten better at recognizing and dealing with those familiar mental mantras that try to convince me I can earn my way if I just try harder, do all that I should.
That I’m not enough as I am.
These days I take it up with God or Steve when guilt arises. I’ll explain, “So I’m feeling like I should do this with the kids…do you think there’s any truth to that right now?”
Having a third-party–friend, spouse, or divine guidance–offer feedback detaches me from guilt and the shoulds–and points my way back to what our family and home needs right now.
How to transform our shoulds
Going back to my earlier conversation, I asked the mom I’d met why she felt she needed to get up early. Had she ever been a morning person?
“No,” she answered. “But it seems like what a good homeschool mom should do.”
We have to let go of these burdensome stereotypes, friends. You can be a fabulous homeschool parent and be yourself. And your children can be fabulous individuals who grow up being themselves, too.
(Plus Kris has already shown us that successful homeschooling families do not have to get up at the crack of dawn.)
We transform our shoulds by trying on a different phrase for size:
By making decisions with intention instead of guilt, we change our shoulds into want to’s–a more powerful, daring way to live.
I should get up early–becomes “Do I want to get up early?”
I should teach the kids more math becomes “Do I want to teach the kids more math?”
I should clean the house now becomes “Do I want to clean the house now?”
We need to have a reason–a want to, a desire–for the priorities that end up on our plates. If we don’t choose for ourselves, the world will certainly choose for us. But you may have noticed that the world has gotten a bit warped lately when it comes to priorities.
It’s at this point in the conversation that our devil’s advocate waves her arms wildly to get our attention and screams:
“We can’t just do what we want to all day! That would be chaos. That’s not the real world! That’s not preparing our kids for life, for jobs, for success.”
I know, I know. Our Puritan work ethic runs deep and shouts loudly.
But I actually think that want-to’s prepare us (and our kids) more for the real world than anything else.
The most successful people in the world have it. Our modern-day school system, the one supposedly training us for that real world out there, generally sucks it right out of our little ones.
And maybe it sucked it out of ourselves as well.
Somehow we think that unless our family has a strict taskmaster driving us the live long day we’d all prefer to lie like slugs and do nothing. I don’t believe this, particularly when we’ve invested time into creating an inspiring environment and removing unnecessary distractions.
The same spirit that created the world lives in me and in each of my children. We are made in God’s image. That spirit of creativity, passion, and love will lead each of us to incredible interests, activities, and insights.
Or we can spend our lives doing what we should.
What about responsibility?
Sometimes at the day’s end I can’t bear to walk up the stairs and brush my kids’ teeth. I’m exhausted, I’ve worked hard, I’m done for a while.
The familiar voice makes its case. “You should brush the kids’ teeth.”
Oh no, I remind it. I’m done with shoulds.
I consider the alternative–not brushing the kids’ teeth tonight. On a handful of occasions in their lives that would be okay. But when I think about it for a moment I realize, I don’t actually want that.
Which means that actually I want to brush my kids’ teeth. So up the stairs I go.
Thinking through my inner voices this way transforms many of my shoulds into want-to’s. It’s empowering instead of guilt-producing.
The same approach goes with our children. It’s not that our kids won’t ever have required chores and duties (though it is possible to inspire, not require when it comes to academics if that interests you.)
It’s that we are modeling for them an approach to life–one of being thankful for our blessings and taking care of them cheerfully, or one of duty, obligation, and lack of joy.
In the classic story Pollyanna (We like this version for littles), a young orphaned girl happily discovers that her rich Aunt Polly wants to take her in–only to find out after arriving that her serious aunt felt she should do her “duty” as the next of kin:
“Pollyanna sighed now–she believed she was going to hate that word–duty.
“Aunt Polly, please,” she called wistfully, “isn’t there ANY way you can be glad about all that–duty business?”
“What?” Miss Polly looked up in dazed surprise; then, suddenly, with very red cheeks, she turned and swept angrily down the stairs. “Don’t be impertinent, Pollyanna!”
In the hot little attic room Pollyanna dropped herself on to one of the straight-backed chairs. To her, existence loomed ahead–one endless round of duty.”
~ Pollyanna, Chapter 6, A Question of Duty
This school year, rap those burdensome “should-do’s” over the head and see if there’s any sense in them. If so, toss them back and exchange them for “want-to’s” instead. If not, discard them completely.
Let’s rediscover that joy and freedom are much better companions than guilt and compulsion after all.
“Oh, of course I’d be BREATHING all the time I was doing those things, Aunt Polly, but I wouldn’t be living. You breathe all the time you’re asleep, but you aren’t living.
I mean living–doing the things you want to do: playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills, talking to Mr. Tom in the garden, and Nancy, and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere all through the perfectly lovely streets I came through yesterday. That’s what I call living, Aunt Polly.
Just breathing isn’t living!”
Originally posted on September 8, 2014.