Steering the Ship

Homeschooling (and parenting, for that matter) is a lot like sailing. Not that I have ever sailed, but as a metaphor I’m pretty sure it holds up. At first, I thought I was the captain, but eventually I realized that the child is the captain. This is her journey, after all. Her course buffeted by winds, her adventure, her risks. And the thing of it is, you may be the mentor but you’ve never done this before. How many of us were homeschooled? And even if we were, or even if this isn’t our first time homeschooling a child, how many humans walk the same path in life with the same skills? None, that’s how many.

Sandra has really gotten this lately. She understands that it’s her adventure. She used to think she was a deckhand and I was the stern captain. Now she sees the point of learning the basic skills. She understands that if she has a goal in mind the way to get there is the way that she’ll need to take. I’m still there to be her guide, her consultant, her accountability, and sometimes I’m the wind that shoves the ship along. But she’s the captain.

That’s not what’s going on with Matthias, though. I used to call them opposites, but then realized that that presumed they were on the same scale. It’s not that he’s a 10 and she’s a 1. It’s more like she’s an 8 and he’s plaid. They just work differently. And part of my struggle as a mother is that he works differently than I do. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I’m an INTJ and he’s an ESFP. We share nothing in terms of how we perceive the world, how we structure our world, what drives us. He often eludes me. I spend an awful lot of time trying to see the world through his eyes, trying to see the key that will unlock his journey for me. “If only I understood…” must cross my mind a dozen times a week, more when I’m in a free fall of doubt about our educational journey.

With Tias, the ship metaphor falls apart. With him, I feel like I’m trying to instruct him in yoga from the shore and he’s in a wetsuit and scuba tank, immersed in a sea of Jello. He can’t hear me and I’m not even sure there’s a point to the whole exercise. Maybe yoga’s just not the right thing.

He’s had a hard week, a week of emotions and struggle. It’s breathtaking, because it feels like it used to to parent him and I’m seeing with a gasp what whole months of our lives used to be like. This week brought into sharp relief just how far he’s come, just how much emotional control and patience he’s developed. It also made me think, “If only I understood…”

I have had to bring back a question that focuses me. “In this moment, am I honouring who he is?” It’s a great question because it forces me into mindfulness, reminds me that my perceptions of his path may have nothing to do with it, reteaches me that my fears about his education make miserable advisers. Asking this question is about trying to see him anew, without preconceptions and without comparisons to others.

Perhaps gardening is a better metaphor. Or not. Metaphors are useful only in that they help us think things through, providing a mirror upon which to reflect reality. Right now, the journey is demanding me to think less and pay attention more. Our relationship is far more important than whether or not he jumps through a particular educational hoop. We need eye-contact and giggles and a feeling of working together towards a common goal, even if that is just laying out circles of strawberries on a cake.

Poplar leaf

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10 thoughts on “Steering the Ship

  1. Katherine says:

    How very true! I am at the very beginning of the long road that lays ahead of me called homeschooling. I am just trying to get my head around the idea of being able to communicate clearly with both of my sons. One thinks like I do, but seems to be completely different at the same time. Other other son, doesn’t think the same as I do at all. I am left to wonder how well our travels will go. Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone! And, that there isn’t an easy answer.

  2. kelli says:

    I recently came across your blog and have gleaned much here.

    This is a beautiful picture of what it looks like to homeschool. There is beauty, and there is pain. And there is a ship, but the shiphands take on various tasks in based on the conditions of the water, the direction of the ship, the surrounding weather. What a lovely metaphor!

    I love this…

    “I have had to bring back a question that focuses me. “In this moment, am I honouring who he is?” It’s a great question because it forces me into mindfulness, reminds me that my perceptions of his path may have nothing to do with it, reteaches me that my fears about his education make miserable advisers. Asking this question is about trying to see him anew, without preconceptions and without comparisons to others.”

    I need to do this daily with each of my girls. They are not little pawns that need moved, nor are they empty slates that need filled. They are living persons that are each made in a unique way. I must respect that and act accordingly.

    Thank you for a glimpse of your heart, for not sugar-coating the truth of life and learning and yet for inspiring in the same breath!
    …kelli

  3. Mariah says:

    I remember when I came to understand that my relationship with my daughter and finding our joy were the most important parts of homeschooling. And that as long as I kept these things in mind things went well. When I let doubt rule things went badly. The academics happened, but everything was so much richer when we were happy and relaxed and the joy was there.

    I don’t know if I mentioned that I’m not homeschooling this year — and I probably won’t next year either. I miss lots of that life, and lots I don’t miss.

  4. patricia says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. It’s a serious post, but there were a couple of lines that made me laugh: “It’s more like she’s an 8 and he’s plaid” and “With Tias, the ship metaphor falls apart. With him, I feel like I’m trying to instruct him in yoga from the shore and he’s in a wetsuit and scuba tank, immersed in a sea of Jello.” Wonderfully funny and a little heartbreaking too.

    I’m sure that if you continue to step back and be mindful of your relationship, everything else will fall into place. With homeschooling, some days or even some times are hard. But when I look back at the hard times in my homeschooling life with my own kids, I realize that’s when some of our most important learning has happened–when we’ve learned about each other.

  5. Kim says:

    I am just starting on the homeschool voyage, but already I feel that my daughter and I have a relationship similar to yours and Tias’s. I struggle to understand what motivates her; I feel like I need to understand in order to help make learning meaningful to her. I have no answers yet. Though I guess it’s probably not about answers…

  6. nettlejuice says:

    Thank you. This is their journey and we are but simple guides. “You can house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”~The Profit

  7. Lisa says:

    This has to be one of your best posts ever. Your focus on the child and his/her needs instead of what “everyone else is doing” is admirable. “teaches me that my fears about his education make miserable advisers” WOW! That is so well said. I admire the work you’ve done within yourself to reach this level of comfort with your children and their choices.

  8. Ricky says:

    I love that you’re using the MBTI to better understand your similarities and differences and, hopefully, exploring the ideas within your family. You two complement each other as you help to fill in each others’ gaps of preference; between the two of you, you could create a really rich educational experience.

    (I think learning about MBTI helped save my marriage. My husband and I learned that default behaviours are due to type and not intentional efforts to annoy the other! LOL)

    One thing that you do have in common is that you’re each a less common type for your sex. “Demographics of MBTI surveys indicate that 60-75% of women prefer feeling and 55-80% of men prefer thinking.[8][9]” (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_differences)

    You could explore what it’s like to be “different” or not matching general role expectations (e.g. being a woman who may seem overly analytical and even coldly logical at times to some people; being a male who is lead by his feelings and seems to procrastinate.) When are these difference helpful and when do they make life more difficult? How are you each similar and different to your friends and family?

    What a great opportunity to establish a basis of self confidence and empathy!!

    If you haven’t come across them already, I’d highly recommend Marcus Buckingham’s and Donald Clifton’s “Now, Discover Your Strengths: How to Build Your Strengths and the Strengths of Every Person in Your Organization” as a complementary resource. The book comes with an access code for online testing for 2 people. It helps people to identify their top five strengths (out of 30, I recall). The premise being to develop and utilize one’s strengths as much as possible, rather than focusing on developing one’s weaknesses. You may find that you and your son share some strengths.

  9. Kate. Settle says:

    from one INTJ to another…. This was powerful for me this week, a reminder to check how to support the movement of my son into his own self, rather than fall into the potter and clay roles of parenting an intense child.
    Thanks.

  10. Jan(ThanksFor2Day) says:

    I was glued to every word in your post. I just stumbled over here from a link on another post…I’m not even a homeschool mom. Don’t want to be…but, you wrote so eloquently about your feelings and thoughts re: you and your kids that I saw myself! My daughter is 20 and I feel like I must have hit the Staple’s “That Was Easy” button with her, compared to my 12 yr old son, who I’m sure is an ESFP! Wow…he’s intense, and extremely ‘literal’…and I could go on and on…The thing that pulled me in was your line about thinking you were the captain of the ship but soon realized that they are the captain’s, we’re just the deckhands! It is about them. It’s not about us. This is their childhood. We’re new to the whole adventure, too…but it is their journey that we get to follow. I liked the way you put all of that in writing:)

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