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Turn The Critic Off!

by Michelle Barone

Making any sort of social decision that is outside the mainstream brings with it some feelings of insecurity and fear. We open ourselves to a certain amount of frowning and tongue clucking. Sometimes, these critics may even be our own voices. But when we arm ourselves with good information and friendly support and face these fears, we will grow not only as courageous parents, but also as human beings.

When we choose to homeschool, we make a decision that some may perceive as a personal attack on the public school system or personal laziness, or misinformed hubris. Once again, we must strengthen our resolve with information and support. This is a good opportunity to model courage of conviction for our children. When they see us as paranoid and fearful, it may create a negative atmosphere in the family and interfere with our potential for joyful living and learning. When they see us as bold and confident, they can open themselves up to their learning with a sense of freedom and possibility.

I see fear, doubt and worry dogging many homeschooling families. Here are some of the worries and fears that I hear expressed almost daily in my work with families:

"I did terrible in school. How can I possibly be a good teacher?"

"I feel angry a lot of the time. Maybe I shouldnít be with my kids all day."

"She will never want to read."

"How do I know if they are leaning what they are supposed to be learning?"

"My kids hate doing anything academic and are defiant about doing any work."

"I work from home, but they always want me at them most inopportune time."

"My partner doesnít have confidence in my choice."

"My partner agreed to homeschooling, but wonít help."

"I feel responsible for everyoneís feelings and education."

These fears can keep us from really seeing what our children need. We stay stuck and are unable to provide the right environment for learning. Our fears can be experienced by our children as not trusting them, believing that they are incompetent in some way, and not measuring up. Since children respond to our unspoken feelings about them, it is imperative that you donít become stuck in your doubts and fears.

Where do all these fears and doubts originate? Some are inside our own heads, developed over the years by our own self-doubts about ourselves, messages from our families, from our own schooling. Some come from the outside when we are directly criticized or when children are drilled on their knowledge and then are attacked if they missed a beat. The critic inside and outside of us comes from the advice that abounds in the homeschooling community. The programs that intimidate you into believing, if you child isnít doing this or that, or reading a certain book, or is spending more time playing than "being on task", then you are failing as a homeschooling parent. When we are bombarded by the messages in our heads or the criticism by those around us, how can we be expected to make good choices and sift through all the solicited and unsolicited advice?

When I first started homeschooling, there were very few "experts" and even few families I could talk to. Most of what I read were personal experiences of parents who had gone through this journey. John Holtís Growing Without Schooling newsletter was really just monthly stories of families struggling with this new way of being with children. But now there is such an oversupply of information on the "right" way to homeschool, it can be overwhelming. Many people in the homeschooling community are honest and sincere about what works for their families. It is nice to hear what others are doing and how they have made educational choices for their families, and we all like to hear about the successes of young people. But your children are unique, and their needs are unique. The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that you get to pick and choose what advice you will take to heart and what you will discard.

Below are some questions and exercises that you can do with your partner, a trusted friend or in your support group. It is your job to be clear within yourself on what your goals and expectations are for your family and for your homeschooling program. Tackle your fears and doubts first. Here are some questions to get you started.

Make a list of your doubts and fears. Did any of the fears mentioned in this article apply to you? Rank them in order of the biggest worry to the least worry.

Look at each fear and ask yourself: What is the basis of this fear? Is there any grain of truth to it? Ask for feedback from a trusted friend to see if he or she feels the worry is valid.

If you feel something really needs to change and you have the power to change it, then take the steps today. If you do not have control over it, then practice letting it go. Replace the worry thought with an affirmation. Find a friend or therapist that can help you understand and let go of irrational thinking.

Refrain from blaming your children or partner when you are worried and want them to change. You can only change yourself.

With all the advice available to us, how can you sift through it and feel good about your choices? Again, take some time to look at how you usually handle receiving and giving advice.

What was some of the best advice you received about homeschooling? What do you usually share as advice?

Where or to whom do you go to for advice? Why? How do you determine if someone is an "expert"? Is it your natural reaction to embrace everything these experts say without question because they are "more educated" than you? What methods do you use to sort through the helpful and less-than-helpful advice?

Use humor in your life to shift the critic out of your head. Begin to laugh more when things arenít going as well as you would like.

Homeschooling, being with your children most/all of the time can have itís challenges, but most of all, it has joy, laughter and comfort knowing that YOU are the most important person in their lives. Donít let your fears take over your time with your children. Kick the critic out and have some fun!

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Michelle Barone MA, MFT, has worked and counseled homeschooling families for many years. She has one grown son, and a busy daughter who still learns at home and in the world. Michelle maintains a private practice in the Los Angeles area, and counsels families outside the area, using both Internet and phone therapy. She can be reached at 818-951-7744, or www.michellebarone.net (Parts of the article were taken from Beyond Academics Exploring Your Familyís Educational Journey by Michelle Barone, M.A. MT with Mary Shannon, available at

www.beyondacademics.org