Let’s be honest here. If you’re a parent, you’ve done it. Sometimes it looks like this:
You yell at the top of your voice, “Kids, STOP YELLING!”.
Or maybe it looks like this:
Your daughter gets frustrated when she doesn’t immediately understand a math concept. You tell her to be patient and just keep working at it, only to, minutes later, exclaim in frustration when you can’t get a stain out of your son’s new shirt.
Or possibly it even looks like this:
You spend your morning working on your character development curriculum with your children. You reiterate over and over again throughout the day how they should be kind to one another, giving them praise for when they do and consequences when they don’t. In a break between schoolwork, you go upstairs to discover that the clogged toilet, which your husband had promised to fix before he left for work (since you were unsuccessful in your own attempts), is still clogged and your husband is gone for the day. This is the second day he hasn’t gotten to it, and not only can the kids not use it, but now there is a stench coming from the bathroom. The minute your husband walks in the door from work that evening, you bombard him with your frustration and disappointment in words and tone that are, um, slightly less than kind.
No matter the form it takes, we all have episodes of inadvertently teaching our children “Do as I say, not as I do”. And if we’re really honest, we’d admit that sometimes we just wish the adage could be true! But the reality is that homeschooling makes it abundantly clear that over the long haul, children do what we do more so than what we say. No matter how good our words, we just can’t get past the fact that it’s what we do and who we are that impacts our kids’ behavior the most. If we tell our children to not stress about their scores on standardized testing, but we spend the six months prior to testing working on testing practices every day with our children, worrying about how they are going to perform, and agonizing over testing results when they arrive, what message do the kids really get? Kids know when the message and the messenger don’t line up – and when they don’t, kids get the message; just not the message we want them to get.
We homeschoolers can easily get caught up in being good teachers but neglect the fact that we are our children’s mentors. And with all of the daily responsibilities that fall into our laps, it’s not uncommon to lose sight of the big picture in our efforts to get all of the information relayed. What is the big picture? That homeschooling is not simply about the facts our children know, or even how well they can use those facts to think critically. Homeschooling is the process of developing personhood. It is the transferring of character, values, and knowledge necessary for our kids to be prepared to live independent, responsible, productive lives. And unfortunately for us parents (and as much as we’d like it to be otherwise), most of that character and values is caught rather than taught. Even if we say it or teach it, what will come through most clearly is what we live.
This means that to truly homeschool effectively, we can’t limit ourselves to simply telling our children what they need to do or what they need to know. We can’t simply be conduits of data. We have to take the time to focus on ourselves – our own attitudes, character, values, and behavior. And we need to bring those attributes in line with what we want our children to gain from us. If we want our children to be diligent workers, it’s not enough to tell them to keep working; we must display diligence in our own efforts. If we want our children to be patient and persevere when they encounter difficulties, we cannot blow up at small frustrations. If we want our children to know their value comes from who they are and not in what they know, we must convey unconditional love and acceptance regardless of their behavior or accomplishments.
Yep, I know. That stinks. You wish we could just go back to “Just do as I say, not as I do”; it sure is a whole lot easier! But if you wanted easy, you wouldn’t be homeschooling, now would you?
The good news? When we follow the adage “Be as I am” rather than “Do as I say, not as I do”, our children get to see the integrity that comes from words, actions, and character all reflecting the same thing. That integrity, in turn, helps children to have more respect for what parents say! It’s an interesting irony that to get kids to do what we say, in the long run, we have to make sure what we say is really what we do. And an added bonus from our words matching our actions and character? Over the long haul, not only do children learn what they should learn, but we become better persons as well. That’s a homeschooling win-win as far as I’m concerned.