SummaryDoes perfectionism help or hinder homeschooling? Christina Patterson learns she can’t give her kids the freedom to learn and still be a backseat driver.
Is being a perfectionist a good thing?
There was a time, not so long ago, when I was convinced I’d found the perfect answer to that perplexing old staple of a job interview question, “What is your weakness?”
“Well, you see, my weakness (really a strength in disguise –wink wink!) is that I am a perfectionist!”(and secretly proud of it!)
And such an answer may indeed have served me well with employers.
I’ll admit it. I’m an organizer and a planner. While working as an elementary school teacher, I often put in extra hours, convinced that the best way to get something done just the way I wanted it was to do it myself.
It seems only obvious, though, that in terms of homeschooling, my role should be that of a facilitator rather than a doer, right? In other words, I’m not learning for my daughter, but rather, sitting in the backseat, creating the learning experiences to facilitate her learning.
All this sounds good in theory. But handing over that responsibility of learning, which in turn will allow my daughter to take ownership of her learning, is harder than it looks.
I fear I have often adopted the role of backseat driver, commanding instructions, convinced that I perhaps should just do it myself, whether it be cutting, pasting, turning the page, circling an answer, or tracing a shape.
I’ve gradually gotten better at restraining my urge to reach out and cut the page for her, or do yet another example in a workbook for her. Instead, I let her strengthen her cutting skills, even if she severs whatever she’s trying to cut, and I let her attempt to create a shape or form, even if it does not remotely resemble the goal shape or form.
My job is to praise her successive attempts as they increasingly approximate, or get closer to, the goal. In other words, I must reward successive approximation, a term I learned long ago during my teacher courses.
Am I really a perfectionist? Perhaps. Naturally, however, perfection does not usually mesh well with motherhood.
Thus, I have found that my organization and planning skills are really no match for our energetic bundle of joy. Perfection also doesn’t match with the ability to homeschool, for much like anything in life, perfection shouldn’t be seen as the goal or set stopping point. Rather, we as home educators, like our children as students, should strive to be lifelong learners, continuously improving.
The tendency to want to view pathways through learning as having a fixed destination isn’t unique to former perfectionists, either. Sometimes it is hard to replace the conviction that there is only one right way to do a task (i.e., perfection) with the mentality that much can be gained from the journey of attempting to do the task, even if many mistakes are made along the way.
Letting Go of the “Mommy Do” Mentality
I think that as parents, we become so accustomed to doing everything for our infants, and then older babies, out of necessity for their survival, that it can become very hard to let go of that “mommy do” mentality.
I’ll never forget the first time I attended our parish’s mommy book club and my daughter scampered off with the other children. She mounted the stairs all by herself, something I had formerly always held her hand for, without so much as a backwards glance.
Of course, I was proud. But that pride was bittersweet, as it was mingled with a sadness that, at least in this particular instance, “mommy do” had been replaced with “Ava do”. Did she scamper up the stairs quickly, though, like she would have done had I been holding her hand? No, thankfully not, for she safely and very painstakingly navigated each step, placing both feet together before attempting the next.
It wasn’t perfection, but it didn’t have to be. She achieved the goal, which was to reach the top of the stairs so she could join her friends. Perfection didn’t matter, and in this example, the growth came from “Mommy Do” remaining in the backseat.
Over the last three and a half years, I’ve learned to relax quite a lot more as a parent, and most recently, I’ve realized the need to apply this lesson to homeschooling as well.
That tendency towards perfectionism, towards “I’ll just do it myself”, has not completely abated, a constant reminder to myself that I have much to work on.
But when learning is viewed as a journey, and not a destination, the realization of what one lacks is not so much discouraging as it is motivating. Were I to go for a job interview today, I think my answer would be slightly different:
So, after all, you see, my weakness is that I am a perfectionist!(and I am slowly overcoming it!)