Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 Homeschool Parent Pet Peeves

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I'm definitely the Homeschool Supporter. I'm the person who is very vocal and willing to shout my bias for homeschooling from the rooftops but there are a few things that, in my opinion, are tremendous growth areas. I've been a homeschooling parent for over twelve years now and I know many homeschooling families internationally so I have a unique perspective on the homeschool environment. If you are a homeschooling parent I welcome your comments below, including your additions to this list.
  1. Socialization
    That's right. I said it.
    If I never hear this question again it will be too soon. Not to say that I don't take the question seriously; I have written about socialization here on this blog about two dozen times. I shall summarize by saying that every single homeschooling parent that I know takes this issue seriously. We have found that socialization and socializing are different for homeschoolers. Not inferior, different. We are far more deliberate in our friendship-making because our children don't sit in a classroom with thirty or more students of the same age five days a week. We make every effort to locate and help nurture connection. Our efforts would surprise you.

    Also, I find it necessary to mention the fact that socialization is a very serious issue for public school kids. I wrote an entire blog post about it but I will spare you that. Go to Google and type in Bullying and Public School. Go ahead. I'll wait.
    .
  2. Gifted or Spectrum
    It is often assumed that a homeschool child is either brilliant, on the autism spectrum, or both. We've gotten used to it, the general populace trying to figure out exactly how to characterize homeschoolers. I appreciate the efforts of the general citizenry trying to identify popular themes in the homeschooling community, however inaccurate that effort is.

    It is true that many homeschooled children are quite accomplished, many are on the autism spectrum, and many identify with both labels.
    However, most homeschool kids are your average kid.
    So, yes, they are brilliant.
    .
  3. Go to School
    Any parent of a child in any school of any ilk can report problems with the school, the teacher, the curriculum, the school district, their child's behavior, bullying, etc and we listen and understand their struggles. Unless someone specifically asks, I never ask Is this a good time to consider homeschooling?.
    Any homeschool parent who complains about any issues they are having will invariably hear the question, Is this a good time to consider sending them to school? unless, that is, if the homeschooling parent is talking to another homeschooling parent. Then we just offer support.
    .
  4. The Pop Quiz
    Every single one of us can report a time when we are in public or at a family gathering and someone decides to give our kids a little pop quiz.
    How much change should I give you? How do we factor integers? Where is Estonia? What does ignominious mean?

    We have been pop quizzed in restaurants, grocery stores, the homes of family members, the mall... Is this a homeschool thing? Do people quiz public schoolers?
    .
  5. Homeschoolers are Religious: NO SCIENCE MATERIAL
    Do you know what? This is true. I don't know the percentages of homeschoolers who are Christian vs. secular vs. atheist, but from the amount of secular curriculum and materials out there I would assume the ratio is quite high. I know this because it is impossible, sad, frustrating, annoying and wrong that homeschool families cannot locate secular science materials. All secular materials are sorely underrepresented in materials available to the homeschool community.
    .
  6. We are Targeted
    Because homeschooling has gained such momentum, publishers are finally putting out far more materials than ever in the past. And that's nice. But in reality we are being targeted with lower-cost, poorly-written materials as well as tons of materials published just to make a buck.
    .
  7. Expensive Curriculum
    And speaking of curriculum, so many people feel pressured by their insecurities and good intentions. Unnecessarily expensive curriculum is offered to parents who feel overwhelmed by the flood of materials, who assume that cost equals quality, or who are bewildered by the recent deluge of materials now on the market.

    While there is great stuff out there, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what to use and what to spend, especially in the first few years of homeschooling.
    .
  8. Secular Homeschoolers, Atheist Homeschoolers
    The vast majority of homeschool families are Christian families, Christian families who have also been overtly defamed by the Duggars and other families in the news who make homeschoolers look like a circus full of clowns or like a group of abusers.

    Secular homeschoolers are so in the minority in some places that families living in some parts of the south or in some highly rural areas cannot find like-minded friends. In fact, some secular families are openly smeared and ostracized. I know several families who are hiding the fact that they are atheists or secular homeschoolers simply because their Christian community will not handle that reality well.
    .
  9. Homeschool Stereotypes
    It's normal, I know. It's easier to simplify things than to truly understand. But stereotypes are always wrong. So much of the criticism leveled at homeschoolers is so inaccurate, yet naysayers can be incredibly vocal. We are often called names like weird, odd, and forlorn. Living outside of the box is an honest expectation for families who choose this lifestyle.  Homeschooling parents learn to cheer lead whenever the need arises.
    .
  10. Homeschool Pet Peeves
    The very exercise of mentioning pet peeves or criticism of homeschooling feels like a total betrayal of homeschooling in general. My sincere efforts toward honesty require that I mention that I am far more likely to defend than criticize homeschooling. And that's normal.

One of my favorite
hidden atheist homeschoolers.
Families that have chosen the lifestyle of homeschooling have many and varied reasons for making this decision. Personally I've seen the village and I don't want it raising my children. Also I am convinced that my children are better educated, better prepared for life, and much happier than I think I was after eighteen years in the public school system; of course that was way back in the day.
I think that they are better educated, better prepared for life, and much happier than some of the kids who are struggling to get schooled under the common core. Homeschool and public school kids are all unique and being schooled in their chosen way. Let's just support each other.


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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Maybe Homeschool is to Blame

Monday, December 28, 2015

Desiderata

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When I was a kid sitting in the heat of the black leather interior of my dad's car there were some favorite 8 track tapes that our family listened to again and again and again. The songs from these 8 track tapes became the music of my childhood. We had a fairly motley collection of artists on those 8 track tapes, from Herb Albert to Cheech and Chong to Jim Croce to Simon and Garfunkle. If we were in the car then we were listening to music in my dad's car.

Dad had an 8 track tape called Visions by Les Crane, a collection of music from all over the map. I loved that tape and played it often. In fact, one year I found it on Amazon.com and bought a copy for each of my siblings. Although their initial responses weren't what I had hoped they would be, I know that they loved that music as much as I did.

8 track tape player
On Visions was a cut of the prose poem called Desiderata spoken on the tape by radio announcer Les Crane. In the early 1970s people liked to act like the poem was a mystical find from a church in 1692. But in reality Desiderata was written in 1927 by American poet Max Ehrmann. When I was a kid I asked Dad about the possibility that the poem was truly written in the 1600s and he said I don't think so; there are concepts in the poem that wouldn't have been written in those days. At the time he wouldn't tell me which line was so unmentionable. Now I realize that he was referring to the line Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

The poem Desiderata is a huge part of my childhood, indeed, of my very identity. I'm sharing it with you because I feel like the poem is a light in the darkness of this fine, rainy day. Be Cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. 

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.



Max Ehrmann

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Atheist Christmas: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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How did your holiday go this year?
Our secular holiday was super lovely so I'll share it with you; I hope you enjoy silly pictures and forced hilarity.

We had some guests this past week and some of that visiting has been amazing and wonder and some of that visiting...not so much. But our family has this feeling that guests are gifts in the house and we have felt very bequeathed and begifted by their presence. We thank our friends for including a visit to our home in their cumbersome (in a good way) and adventurous travel plans. I hope that you, too, had new eyes in the house to help you appreciate your home.

One evening our guests slept beneath our lighted Christmas tree. It was a sweet idea and we were delighted with their congeniality and darlingness. I didn't take any pictures but I did sneak in for a moment just to see them in their slumber. I have never thought of the potential romance and charm of a slumber party around the Christmas tree.

My stepdaughter, Jessica, and Jerry
Circa 2011
Our family holiday practices go back about twenty years. When my stepkids were young, we had a Christmas where the pressure to be everywhere was strong. Both my parents and my husband's parents are divorced and remarried. All four of these factions insisted on us proving our love by being at their home on Christmas. In our sincere intention to prove our love to everyone, my husband and I and the two kids spent the day at four different locations. The kids opening their gifts at each location, with each set of loved ones, had no time to actually enjoy their gifts or their loved ones because QUICK we were off to the next location. My stepkids, Tim and Jessica, then ages 3 and 6, were exhausted and overwhelmed and simply confused as to our circuitous road trip that day.

My stepson, Tim
Circa 2011
By the third Christmas of the day that year we were all on the ledge and about to lose it. When we drove into the driveway of the fourth Christmas destination of the day, the kids and I were all crying. We sat in that car that evening, in the dark, knowing that the family faction awaiting our presence in that house would not understand if we simply drove home and got some sleep.

The next year we put down our collective holiday feet, threw down the gauntlet, and told everyone, all four factions of parents who could not be in the same room together: This year we have an open house for Christmas. Come, don't come. Stay, don't stay. Do what makes sense for you but we are not leaving our home for Christmas. With understanding and appreciation for where you are all standing, our kids need us to be home and that is what we will do. We hope you come and stay but we understand any choice of attendance that you make. 

Christmas 2011
It took a year or two of adjustment, but now that holiday tradition is to be at our home. People do come and go as is comfortable for them. The groups of family have changed over the years as to how they can handle it. But now we are left with a super fun group of people who can enjoy the day and who do enjoy the day. 

We created some games that we play. People bring food and music. There are gifts and carols. And we've made this day perfectly ours. 

This y ear
With the kids getting older, one is now married, I assume that one day one of our kids with their own many factions will acknowledge the change of time and will say: This year we have an open house for Christmas. Come, don't come. Stay, don't stay. Do what makes sense for you but we are not leaving our home for Christmas. With understanding and appreciation for where you are all standing, our kids need us to be home and that is what we will do. We hope you come and stay but we understand any choice of attendance that you make. 

And Jerry and I will be proud of them for making the holiday work for them and we will enjoy the newness of their fledgling families, and it will be so clear to us...we have given our children the gifts of freedom and family. 

Feliz Navidad

JD plus Traditional Nerf Gun
and Kick Ass vest
and Aviator Specs
This year we have Jhevaunte living with us, a young man who has not had the family holiday experience ever since the death of his mother and great grandparents. He has not felt a part of a family for over five years. In my total delight and, frankly, in my privilege I enjoyed showering him with fun stuff, nice stuff, loving stuff.
It has made my holiday so extra special to bring our family traditions with him.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December Ideas for the Secular Family

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I've had it in my mind for awhile now to offer some ideas for holiday ideas for December for the secular family. Since I am awake late (early) tonight, this is the night (morning). In another blog post I talked about how important it is to create your own holiday practices and to enjoy the freedom to explore ideas the make sense to your family this month. 

In that vein I have been gathering ideas for alternative December traditions that you and your family might consider this year, or next. This list is simply a collection of ideas that I have come up with for this blog...there are certainly more and better ideas to explore and to consider. What will your family do to make your holiday meaningful?
  • Turn off the screens and make holiday crafts for decoration or for gifting.
  • Make your own holiday cards for mailing.
    And I don't care what others say, I LOVE the family letters that come in cards.
  • Spread pinecones with peanut butter and nuts for hanging in the boughs of winter trees.
  • Enjoy dreidel night or a scavenger hunt.
  • Read a holiday themed story together.
    By the fireplace if you can.
  • Go ice skating as a family.
  • Gather friends and go caroling.
  • Google Hangout with far away family during holiday gift opening.
  • Volunteer at your local homeless shelter or meals on wheels.
  • Adopt a family. Provide them with dinner, a tree, and gifts.
  • Secret Santa among family members.
  • December 1st begin collecting a gratitude list. Read it together on Christmas eve.
  • Secret Santa: except, rather than gifts, do acts of kindness for one another
  • Decorate ornaments for a tree. Keep some and gift them away as gifts. Have an ornament or decoration party.
  • Go for a walk by candlelight.
  • Hot chocolate and holiday lights!
  • Sleep in front of the glittering tree. Have a slumber party with the entire family.
  • Get creative with gift package wrapping by creating reusable bags or repurposed wrapping. Go green.
  • Create a scavenger hunt for gifts or for nature items.
  • Create gifts of warm socks, scarves, hats, or mittens for the homeless.
  • Donate books to your local library, preschool, nursing home.
  • Host a cookie sharing party.
  • Include letters and art work in gifts to family. 
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Host a bonfire
  • Decorate your tree with something unusual. Jewelry. Beads, Household objects. Pine cones, seed pods, and natural things.
  • Invite strangers or new friends to spend the holiday with you.
  • Give the gift of service for use through out the year.
    Grass cutting. Meals. Child care.
  • Game night.

What will your family do to make your holiday meaningful?

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What About Christmas?

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Back in the early days of my being an openly atheist parent I was far less confident about it than I am today. I was tentative, even apologetic about being a freethinker, especially with people that I didn't know well. I remember being highly aware of the reaction of people as I would reveal my skepticism, knowing that I was in the minority as a godless parent. My intuitiveness was a real bummer because I can read disdain, anxiety, and disapproval in an instant.

One day, some years ago, I was at a conference and I sat next to a woman named Cathy who became friends with me for a short period of time. She was over at my house in December and I was showing her the Kwanzaa candle holder I had just bought and explaining to her my plan to expose the kids to as many different holiday traditions as I could. I remember showing her a dreidel that I had picked up as well as a description of how to play the dreidel game and of its history.

Sitting there on my couch, in front of the huge tree with a star on top, she looked at me with her head tipped. With an obvious effort to keep the discouragement out of her voice, Cathy tipped her head and said What about the Christian tradition? Will you expose them to that too? I pointed at the tree and replied Do you mean like that?

Our friendship didn't last long. It became clear to me that she had felt it was a goal to get me back to the Christian side; I was quite happy to allow the friendship to fade back into nothing. Her constant disapproval and discouragement affected me, even though she tried to keep it very polite. I was highly aware of where she stood on the matter and, though I had my doubts, I was sincerely trying to make that friendship work.

What About Christmas?

So what about Christmas? If you are an atheist parent you are either constantly thinking about what to do and how to do it OR you are being questioned by believers around you. Living in this country where so many areas are so very Christian, many atheist parents are unsure how to move their families through December without some real emotional struggle.

This month tends to bring out the unabashed allegiance of some Christians to their belief system. This makes some interactions with them far more tense and ticklish. And still you have the right, indeed the responsibility, to maintain your freethinking ways of parenting for your children.

Let me start out by telling you this: You have every right to raise your family in the considered and deliberate way you have chosen to move through the world. 

Do you want to put up a Christmas tree? Go ahead! We all know that the roots of the tree is pagan, and still that matters none. The cultural traditions are all fair game. Use the things that you enjoy, discard the rest, and add anything else that interests you. Explore cultural traditions from around the world if you like, adopt as many as you like. And even more fun, create new and personal traditions of your very own.

Do you like wreaths? Playing the dreidel game and eating latkes? Singing solstice songs and hanging fruit on trees? Lighting Kwanzaa candles? Exchanging gifts? Giving alms to the poor? Celebrating the festival of lights, Hogmanay, or St. Nicholas Day? The December holidays and traditions are endless and incredibly old, some over 5,000 years old. Check them out, inform yourself, and freely incorporate anything that appeals your family. Light yourself a bonfire and enjoy the feeling of the season.

Remind yourself and remind the Cathy in your life that each of us has the freedom and the right to open our minds and our homes to the beauty of the month of December. Atheist are the luckiest people because we truly have the freedom to do just that.

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Kathryn Wants to Know: When Family Doesn't Support Secular Parenting
The Greatest Gift
Atheist Myths About Parenting: Morality, Ethics, and Santa  Claus

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Choose





Which would YOU rather have?

I made this meme based on another one that I saw on Facebook...
I have to say that I would rather have my BFF live here! 
Short of that, please send the cook!!!!  :D

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

One Nation, Indivisible

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My house is filled with homeschooled teens today and I have been enjoying their amazing minds and conversations. At this moment in the other room is a fascinating conversation on American history and the Pledge of Allegiance. My son has to concede that he barely knows the words of the Pledge...he has no interest in it.

Other kids are saying that, while they love their country, they see no reason to recite a pledge of any kind. Another teen is saying that the words under God need to be removed from the current Pledge of Allegiance. In response to the question of how familiar the Pledge of Allegiance is to the citizens one teen said Things change in this country every day; we could get used to the words changing in the Pledge. One teen has gone on to disagree saying that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feels great and they love being a part of a large group saying it all together. 

The conversation went on to discuss various religion traditions from other countries as well as how the dominant religion in this country, Christianity, seems to remove rights from the people, rather than add to them.

What I'm marveling at is how informed these kids are, how well-spoken, how passionate they are about how freedom strengthens a country... I'm proud of these kids; they are so neat! 
A perfectly average and extraordinary day.

Maybe it's the homeschooling. Maybe it's just that the next generation coming up has amazing hearts and minds...I'm hopeful.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Black, Unarmed, and Rocking

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Did you ever notice how it happens that once you learn about something you begin to see it everywhere? In the past couple of weeks there have been a couple of issues that I've been learning about, reading about, and finally seeing how they impact my life. It's almost like having new eyes. 

Earlier this year my good friend Be-Asia McKerracher recommended a good book to me called Authentically Black by John McWhorter, a provocative book on the state of the African-Americans here in America. I didn't begin reading it until quite recently and now I'm hooked; the book was almost nothing like I thought it would be (whatever that is). I'm learning so much. I plan on reading another book by McWhorter called Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America. I have often wondered about the black culture in The States, with an obvious understanding that there in not a single culture. I'm also learning so much from my wonderful friend Rayven Holmes who is sharing so much of her own journey toward being strong, female, and black with me.

In March of this year we had a friend move in with us. I've probably mentioned him. His name is Jhevaunte and goes by his initials: JD. He is 19 years old and has become a real part of this family. JD has quite a history and is, sadly, a young man without a mother. He started calling me Mom quite soon after moving in with us but it was another few months before I realized that I would be honored to be JD's parent. He is an amazing young man and I am truly honored and delighted to count him among my family.

Dread Repair
In Progress
A few months ago JD went and got himself a lovely head full of dreadlocks. Unbeknownst to us, dreadlocks require regular, even daily, upkeep. Needless to say, we didn't know that. After two months of sleeping on his dreads, poor JD had a massive mat of hair on top of his head and he needed some real work done on it. I spend a few nights reading and watching countless videos on youtube about how to attack those neglected dreads. My efforts turned out quite well. And to be honest, I'm feeling pretty proud of my work tonight.


Another place I have been learning is in the surprising area of guns and gun control. I've had many conversations with people both on the side of Freedom to Carry and on the side of Gun Control. The many horrible stories in the news have induced me to FINALLY learn more about the issue...beyond the obvious inconsistencies in the practice of pharmacies that limit my access to Sudafed while allowing anyone purchase of ammunition by the barrel online.

Recently while visiting friends in another state, John and I realized that we were living in a house with an actual arsenal of weapons and ammunition. This household we were visiting had many, many weapons, including a bloody Gatling Gun, many stored in easily-accessible places. I held more than one gun in my hands last week during our visit. My confusion and curiosity and questions sparked many, many conversations on the issue and I'm feeling both better informed and more certain that those in favor of increased gun control laws must be heard.


And a third thing that I have been diving into is Led Zepplin. This English rock band formed in 1968 and was composed on four amazing musicians: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones. Although, as a kid, teen, young adult I didn't realize it, Led Zepplin was a real favorite of mine; their music was almost always in the background of my life. Their psychedelic blues music was unique and absolutely inspired. I simply didn't appreciate them and their musical talent fully until recently. In the last weeks I've been listening to them like a mad person as well as learning about each of them, following their stories, listening to music history. Give a listen.


There you go, three examples of recent obsessions. LOL
What are some of yours?


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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Homeschool: SPLURGE!

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So many of the homeschoolers that I know are people who are counting pennies and living frugally. I also know people who are able to put out the jack for amazingly expensive trips and gadgets for their brood. I sit somewhere in the middle there.

Most families never really sit and talk brass tacks when it comes to money and I'm not going to change that too much here. But I do have some idea that so many of us are working hard to balance and weigh how to spend finite cash. 

When homeschooling, families are sitting at the budgeting table, it can be difficult to figure out what needs to be in the cross hairs when cash is running low. This post is simply my thoughts on what is essential to a homeschooling family and what is unnecessary splurge bait. I think it's totally possible, acceptable, and adequate to actually spend nothing on homeschooling. Somebody else might have a completely different list.

The public library is still a viable source of materials for a complete education. It is completely possible to educate yourself through books from the library.


My list of essential purchases for a homeschool family includes:
  • World Travel
  • Horses
  • A Fabulous Computer System
  • A Smart Phone
  • A 3D Printer
  • Membership to all of the Best Clubs

OK, not really. My actual list for essential splurges for OUR family has been:
  • Computer and printer
  • We LOVED edhelper.com back in the day.
  • Netflix! Though youtube.com is amazing and free.
  • A car
  • Co-op Fees, Camp Fees, Gymnastics Classes, Wall Climbing lessons, Korean Lessons, Community Theater fees, and the like
  • A Trampoline, a Decent Bicycle, and Exercise Equipment
  • An Amazing Topographical Map that I bought from an auction held by a school district
  • We have also splurged on several online courses from Coursera and The Great Courses
Of course I have spent cash money on books; I've spent many, many, many dollars on books. Most of it unwisely and unnecessarily. Probably most of us do this. Almost every homeschooling family I have ever known has a fabulous, fabulous library. Many of us have shelves and shelves of books that are amazing to have, but not particularly essential.

I'd love to talk about curriculum because I know that this is important to so many readers. But I've never felt it essential to own this type of material. I've seen many books and book sets from many publishers but I simply can't speak knowledgeably about them, sorry. In fact, stopped keeping up with every new set of materials coming out.

My own decision was to spend dollars on math and science books as well as on grammar and writing textbooks. We've used the library for literature, science, history, current events, music and art, and almost every single other thing. Seldom do I purchase workbooks, but I have bought science lab workbooks from time to time. 

Why Frugal is Possible

The internet is such a treasure trove of materials, I don't even know where to begin there. More and more websites are available for homeschoolers, students, and teachers; over the years I have become overwhelmed with the numerous free and low cost sites. Also I have made about a thousand worksheets and other materials on my own by using our decent printer and a word processing program. And homeschoolers are well-known for sharing resource materials, supplies, repurposing resources, and passing along used books. And don't forget the yard sales!



Bottom line: homeschooling frugally is very possible. Figure out your own essentials based on your own family and ability. I'm a huge believer in passing along my books and extra materials to homeschoolers coming up behind me. Share the love.

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Stressing Over Homeschool Materials...NOT!
Homeschooling on a Single Income
You Must be so Patient

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Part Three: Some Call Them "Whiners", Have Courage

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In this series of posts I have been exploring a particular temperament of person that I have termed "challenging". In my first post in the series I talked about some of the difficulties one might encounter when interacting with a person who carries the traits and in the second post I attempted to describe the traits with the caveat that I might be inventing an entirely new personality constellation of traits because I have never been able to find any literature or internet sites that were useful to me.

I fully admit that these writings are my own experiences and observations. In my life I have frequently been surrounded by people that I care for who I would suggest were challenging. People who are challenging me and challenging to themselves. People who have been beyond merely rebellious or sassy or demanding or provocative or quarrelsome or passionate or overwhelming and beloved people who have required me, as a person who regularly connects with them, to temper my interactions with intuitive mood and need recognition. It has often been my task to both determine crisis level and to figure out how to intervene. In other words, I've been the person who has to respond to their behavior.

And it's a real challenge, both to me and to the person who is my subject. I know that my compassion and effort to make sense of their super-strong needs and behavior and energy is a part of what makes things work for them. For the purpose of this blog post I will refer primarily to my relationship with my daughter. In simplest terms, it is our relationship that is healing and centering for her.


I am Elizabeth and
I approve of these posts.
For example, this week as I am working on this series of blog posts, it has been quite difficult in this house. She is upset about something and that thing is the size of an elephant to her. She can't handle the enormity of the feelings going on inside of her and it is spilling out all over the place to affect everyone else. 
If she's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

Elizabeth and I have a very close and loving relationship. Over the years I have taken the time, again and again, to really listen and display my sincere efforts to understand. I have shared my struggles with her with care and honestly. We have had effortful conversations about previous crisis events, looking at the crisis event closely. We have reviewed difficult times to find patterns, struggles, areas we could improve in our communication or where we can reduce assumptions. We have made our relationship a real place of connection. 

Because of the long-term growth and health of our relationship, she always knows that I am on her side. She knows that I am her ally. The fact that we have built this environment for her, this holding place, is healing for her in and of itself. She can bring stuff to me and begin to feel more in control of her highs and lows. Over the years we have talked very honestly about the extreme emotions that she feels and how the emotions are, sometimes, out of perspective.

If you are looking for specific interventions I've got some suggestions for you. Know that the process of getting to where we are today has taken time, authenticity, and sincere effort. Nothing happens in a day. Both Elizabeth and I have worked hard to understand what happens and how to effectively help.


Remember, our challenging person is feeling out of control. Their emotions are huge. They are looking for what I can only think to call a hug. An emotional or a verbal hug. You might think of it as an intervention or an intercession. Nonverbal hugs might be kind and loving words identifying the struggle we can see. They might be an acknowledgment that you see the struggle and you care. A nonverbal hug might be a simple reminder that you are there and listening and ready to help. This simple expression of genuine compassion and empathy helps our loved one to feel tethered, connected to something solid and safe.

The hug is needed when you feel the least like giving them one. 
When they feel the least deserving of it. 
That is why it is so powerful and true.

A Solution to their Current Problem

You don't need a solution; in fact, there is no solution. You can only offer yourself, your time, your genuine love and care. And this YOU that you offer, it is a process. Over time, your challenging person will find that some crises feel easier to cope with. Over time the crisis will be less dramatic and will last for shorter periods of time and they will be able to find a place of comfort of personal competency (efficacy) easier. Read on to understand this.

The Goal

The goal will never ever be to solve anyone's problems but will, instead, be to model self care, self comforting skills, problem solving, and mood management. In case you need a concrete example, there are times with my daughter when I draw her a nice bath, put on some soothing tunes, light a candle, and invite her to bask in the warmth. I explain that we are looking for a way to comfort her and this lovely interlude will help her to relax and slow things down so that she can think again. She connects those moments of comfort with the idea of how to handle overwhelming emotions and, today, can use that technique to sooth herself when she needs to relax. 

Easy? Obvious? 
Not to her.

Give the sympathy that the challenging person seems to crave. Recognize that the real issue at play here is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. Express the powerlessness that you see that they are feeling. Put words to it. Observe that yes, indeed, that is a problem. Yes, indeed, you are really struggling to figure this out. Yes, you feel that there may not be a solution. Maybe you feel to blame. Maybe you feel overwhelmed and terrified that your life will always be too large for you to handle.

Giving these verbal cues helps our challenging one to learn how to express their enormous and perplexing feelings with words.


Bottom Line

What? Am I saying that I don't try to cheer her up?
Don't offer obvious solutions to the presenting problem?
Am I saying that we don't try to solve the problem, the one that my challenging child is presenting in all of her explosive glory?
That's right! Offer one thing: empathy.


In the moment of crisis keep these things in mind:


  • Acknowledge the frustration, the powerlessness, the enormity of the emotions that the challenging one is experiencing. Validation of their distress is key for this person in crisis. Sometimes validation happens just by being a patient listener.
  • Remember that you cannot remove the issue or solve the problem.
  • Ask the person if they want advice. If they do not, do not offer any. If they do, give simple suggestions and back off.
  • Remind them that, while they may have caused some of the distressing issues with their behavior or choices, one of the realities of life is that it is difficult. At some other time, if appropriate, talk about contributing factors, but now simply remind them that they still deserve good things in life and that you are on their side.
  • Encourage self-soothing behaviors, distraction, redirection, comforting things: music, healthy activity, walking, bike riding, art, sight seeing, writing, etc.
  • Know that the person must move forward with or without you and determine how much time you can offer. 
  • Express your sincerest certainty that they have what it takes to handle even the most challenging things and to come up with solutions and ways to move forward. This person is wise enough and capable enough to figure out the next step and the next; what they lack in the confidence to do so.
  • The final piece of the puzzle for me was this: If you are a parent, love and accept your child as they are. There is no blame or reason for this temperament; there is only love and patience. You have not caused a challenging person to be negative and you cannot change it. You can only accept and love them, knowing that that is who they are. When you offer acceptance and understanding, only then will our challenging person realize that they can choose, grow, and improve their way of handling the difficulties that life throws at them.

These challenging people are our loved ones. They are not bad people. They are living with internal messages and doubts that seriously complicate their ability to handle even the most basic encounter with struggle. I am here to tell you that when we love and seek to understand the challenge of what it's like to be inside of the head of the challenging person, compassion comes.


Remember, they are not giving you a hard time (Well, they are, actually), they are having a hard time.

Our relationship with our loved challenging one is truly our best tool for helping them figure out how to move forward in life. We acknowledge that they are who they are, they will not be different, and now what. Now we assist them to learn what to do with it.
And that's progress.
...
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In the fourth and final post I will talk about additional ideas and suggestions for you, the person walking through life with a challenging person beside you.

Thank you for sticking with me for this blog series; figuring this temperament out has been an important goal in my life, yet I'm sure my efforts will fall short. Not only is my own beloved daughter of this temperament but others in my family as well. If you are of this temperament or if you love someone of this temperament, stay with me. 
I hope you will share your thoughts on this series of posts as well. I'm not a scientist, but I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this and I'd love to hear your thoughts, struggles, and insights as well.



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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Part Two: Some Call them "Whiners", Drawing a Picture

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I think that at times in my life I have battled my own tendencies toward being a challenging temperament...a little. But I'm generally a very mellow person, quite low key. In my family growing up, some major people in my family are people who are of this temperament, challenging. Now with my daughter being of a challenging personality temperament, I'm the dang sandwich generation. 

No wonder this personality type has been the bane of my existence and the focus of so much of my energy and thought. Both my mother and my daughter mean alot to me and my relationship with each of them requires that I spend time contemplating situations: what is going on? What is hidden? What is being communicated? What will help the situation that my challenging one has created? What part have I played? When do I need some space? What is unsaid in this situation? 


What exactly do I mean when I talk about a challenging temperament? Let me describe the type of things you might notice in a person. But the truth is, I'm just flying by my own experiences here; your post might read differently.

In some families the challenging person is very often misunderstood and maligned. They are often called whiners, complainers, killjoys, bitches, and more. This person has exhausted people. These people may complain and be negative so much and so often that they push people away from them. Many people choose to stay away for the cycle of negativity that a person of this temperament might bear with them. I guess you can figure out your challenging person by how exhausted you feel after an interaction with them.

In my case, I generally see some of these things:

  • This person is inconsolable. Their problems are larger and worse than yours.
  • This person vacillates between depression and anger and feeling simultaneously powerless and at fault.
  • When confronted, this person will reveal a complex morass of confusion and anger that doesn't seem to be based fully in reality.
  • This person is convinced that no one can understand how difficult their life is.
  • This person tends to react in fairly large ways because they are convinced that their emotions are far too large to contain. Additionally, they are convinced that they have every right to express those emotions freely and without check.
  • Understanding and investigation happens second: reactive explosion happens first.
  • The complaints are ongoing and seem to reflect obsessive thinking, or an inability to see beyond their own situation.
  • This person may have frequent minor physical complaints and require special care.
  • This person will explain why their issues are endless and will up the ante if you attempt to bring in a larger-world perspective.
  • This person finds a certain amount of comfort or familiarity in their depression or sad state.
  • This person might seem to be seething much of the time.
  • This person might seem to resist intimacy while simultaneously crave it.
  • Any attempt to be solution-focused is met with frustration, indignation, or exasperation.
  • This person may feel defeated by life in general and alone in their battle with it.
  • This person's reactions to seemingly small things reflects their perception that the world is unfairly stacked against them.
  • And this person is completely unaware of how difficult, dramatic, and unrealistic their reactions are to handle and they seem to operate from a position of expecting to not be liked or loved.


Truly each challenging person has their own constellation of provocations and characteristics. Probably the threads running through many of these folks is the certainty that their conflicts are harder than most people's, that no one understands or appreciates their challenges, and that they don't have good self-soothe skills. Also, please note that these characteristics are listed from an outsider's perspective and not from the perspective of the person in question.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have I caught the essence of you or of your loved one? If so, please stick around. I have devised some efficacious actions and interventions that might be useful to you to explore and to understand.

___________________



In my third post of this series I plan on talking about what works if you are a challenging person or if you have a challenging person in your life. And the fourth and final post will talk about additional ideas and suggestions.

Figuring this temperament out has been an important goal in my life, yet I'm sure my efforts will fall short. Not only is my own beloved daughter of this temperament but others in my family as well. If you are of this temperament or if you love someone of this temperament, stay with me. 
I hope you will share your thoughts on this series of posts as well. I'm not a scientist, but I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this and I'd love to hear your thoughts, struggles, and insights as well.