Parenting The Child You Have


This morning, I have been moving more stuff out of our family room as I work through my organizing project of de-cluttering our house.

Today, the focus was on all the materials I homeschooled my son with during 2nd and 3rd grade.

It was an intense time, both the months leading up to bringing him home as we tried to make school work for him and during the first months of homeschool when I battled to find a mode of schooling that he responded to.

I badly wanted unschooling to work.

Unschooling is a branch of homeschooling that ventures children will learn all they need to know at the time that is right and relevant to them. Let them follow their interests and involve them in life as it unfolds around them.

No structure, no workbooks, few limits.

Try as I might, he resisted. He was angry, offensive and depressed.

With everything.

Nothing was met with pleasure, and our home was invaded by the constant yak-yak of the TV as he attempted to drown his consciousness with electronic oblivion.

After much gnashing of teeth, tears and hand-wringing, I reflected upon the school experiences that had worked for him. He was still refusing to engage in a discussion so I went ahead and set up school-at-home.

As I had done before, I crossed my fingers.

I bought some workbooks, got a laminator off Freecycle and started channeling the two teachers he had adored. I even purchased a handbell to mark the start of the school day.

This system worked much better. The structure, the contract, the expectations. I became expert at seeking out teacher’s gold on eBay, Craigslist, garage sales and the like.

And yet, after I had bought many workbooks and projects, I learned educational computer programs that looked like games and books that used humor to teach worked best and that’s what we spent most of our homeschooling time doing.

During this period our family and dining rooms resembled a grade school classroom – everything was labeled, laminated and displayed, everything had its place; I had even produced a student handbook!

I was in my element. Very happy. And proud. Of myself.

For being so clever.

However, all this had eventually to be dismantled and because of my attachment to it, that has taken time. I’ve been left with a big pile of wonderful educational materials, many completely unused.

I have been working slowly over the year that we’ve been back at school to release much of this stuff but it has been hard to let it all go.

This morning I decided to tackle the workbooks, magazines and projects. I set myself the goal of reducing the pile by half.

As I pulled out the books, I remember buying them, my heart full of hope that this would finally set him on fire. I imagined him head bent, intensely concentrating, ultimately triumphing as he mastered a new skill. I had felt so smart when I found math problems that were based on comic strips, the one thing that captured him during this time.

Ultimately, it was all good.

He is about to enter 5th grade having adjusted and found a mode of schooling he can live with. I am left with things I invested in whose ROI was pretty poor.

I realize now that I bought these things for me.

I would have loved these problems, projects, all shiny and brand new. I would have fallen on them and devoured them but worked like mad to keep them all neat and tidy, upset if I bent a corner or sullied a page.

I thought I might get closure if I completed the workbooks myself but that doesn’t seem to be the case. There are far too many of them, 3rd grade math doesn’t appeal and at my time of life, I only want to spend time doing things that really excite me.

So I just have to suck it up.

Deal with the disappointment that my son is simply not like me. Doesn’t enjoy the things I do. Doesn’t work the way I work. How many parents have gone before with the self same woes?

One of my favorite quotations is from James Lehman, creator of the Total Transformation Program, one we have followed with our sons and which I have great respect for.

“Parent the child you have, not the one you wished for.”

Sage advice. Advice I heartily agree with.

But sometimes, you have to parent the one you wished for (maybe one just like, or completely different to, you) to learn that actually your kid isn’t like that at all and needs something completely different.

We all have to start somewhere and most people start where they are.

Have you found yourself parenting a different child to the one you have? Has it been difficult to accept your child for who he or she is? Let me know in the comments!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica July 10, 2010 at 9:57 am

You’re a strong mama. I have not had the schooling troubles as you have but I have really struggled with raising an only child who is so vastly different from the way I was as an only child. I should have this advice stamped on my hands where I can be reminded of it all the time. Courageous post!


alisongolden July 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Well, kudos to you too, Jessica, as you don’t have another child to offset things. Our other child (who was not homeschooled) is much more like me. And there I find some relief. And then there’s the whole gender thing…


sarah March 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Great article! I read a book a few years ago called Different Kids, Different Needs – actually I try to re-read it every year. It looks at our basic personality types and those of our children and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each and the interactions between the 2. It has really helped me to understand my kids and to find ways to make life easier when we function so differently. A simple example, I am a tend to try and use every minute so I am constantly on the verge of running late. This really stresses my daughter out so I now work hard to allow a few more minutes when we have to leave.
My son is the polar opposite of me in many ways, but I say God gave him to me to make me laugh more. This child hasn’t got a serious bone in his body but he sure makes me smile! I’ll need to remember that in the years to come when he frustrates me because he won’t follow through on things!
That really helped me to appreciate the good and learn some good tools to address the things that aren’t their strengths (or mine!)


Alison Golden March 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Hi Sarah:

My son (the one I homeschooled) is the same as your daughter and I am similar to you. I use every last second. I usually listen to rock music in the car but I’ll never forget putting on a slow song once. When it was over, he told me to put it on over and over. He told me he loved it because it was so relaxing (he used that word!) He was only 4 and it made me realize how different his needs were to mine and how I’d been stressing him out all these years without even realizing, poor kid.
Alison Golden recently posted..5 Inspiring and Unconventional Personal Development Blogs You Should ReadMy Profile


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