Every Parent is a Teacher

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At a church event one recent Sunday afternoon, I was chatting with a few other moms when the subject of school came up. Two of us are homeschoolers, and two are not. One of the latter moms began to express her appreciation for what homeschooling moms do, commenting that she didn’t think she could ever do it. I had to take that opportunity to confess that in all honesty, there is a part of me that never wanted to be a teacher.

My husband and I both grew up in homes where our mothers were school teachers before they had children. Though their choice to homeschool was very much against the grain at that time, they did have some background in teaching experience and interest. I had always planned on homeschooling when I had children because I believed in its positives. But though I accepted the idea in principle, I’m not sure I thought it through very practically. While I certainly have always said that I wanted to be a mother, I don’t know that I ever really wanted to be a teacher. The care and counseling of children come naturally to me, but my few experiences of being in front of a classroom felt mostly awkward and intimidating.

Of course, it’s different when I’m just with my own children. But some of the same issues that would rattle me in front of a classroom crop up at times. I tend to become easily frustrated when my children can’t seem to pay attention or have little interest in the things I’m trying to teach. It drives me crazy that I can’t seem to get through a lesson without a thousand off-the-wall questions and interruptions of desperate needs for water or the bathroom. And then there are the meltdowns over nit-picky things. Some days I finally throw up my hands and say, “Fine. I guess you can teach yourself today!” I’m sure there are many lessons that we all have to learn to make this a smoother experience. But suffice it to say, there are many days when teaching feels very difficult and not at all a natural outpouring of my personality and talents. I sometimes wonder whether it might be a more efficient use of everyone’s time if I just had my children learn from someone who loves to teach and followed a different vocational preference for myself.

This week, however, I had a lightbulb moment as I finished up reading a great parenting book: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, by Kirsten Welch (you can check out Amy’s thoughts on the same book here). This book gives a lot of good advice on making the tough choices necessary to teach our children to be different in our all-too-often greedy, selfish, and materialistic culture.

This may seem unrelated to my teacher identity conflict above, but bear with me. As I pondered the concept of parenting my kids with a particular purpose, I realized that I often don’t think about parenting that way. In the day-to-day moments, I am mostly thinking about how to deal with the immediate issues: Stop hitting your sister. Go clean your room. Use words like “please” and “thank you,” not “shut up” and “stupid.” I know that I need to deal with the underlying heart issues that cause the negative behaviors, but it is often easier to focus on the little pop-up fires rather than addressing the volcano bubbling beneath the surface. It takes a lot of patience and courage to face the bad attitudes while still being neither too lenient nor too harsh.

In parenting, you really can’t get by with just the half-hearted maintenance. That only leads to bigger problems down the road. You have to go all in, actively investing your time and effort to educate your children on what it means to be a mature adult. And suddenly it hit me: No matter what career path I take, I will always be a teacher, because that’s what parenting is. Parenting is not the same as babysitting, where you mainly deal with immediate needs and issues. It involves planning, setting goals, making hard choices, building relationships, and engaging in one-on-one counseling sessions. It is not enough to be a damage control monitor; good parents must be involved, proactive teachers.

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With this idea in mind, here are a few follow-up thoughts:

  • If you, like me, have struggled with the concept of being a teacher, you can remember that you’re already teaching your kids and have already committed to continue for many years to come. It may not come to you very naturally or be your favorite thing in the world, but our kids need us to teach them, no matter what our other career choices may be.
  • If you are considering (or reconsidering) homeschooling and don’t know if you have the ability or the patience, remember that you have already taught your child countless things—many without even thinking about it—and that parenting requires patience regardless. This is not to say that homeschooling is for everyone, but you may be more capable than you think. 
  • We should never view homeschooling as something that automatically makes someone a better parent. Why? Because regardless of schooling choices, good parents will all be involved in their child’s moral and intellectual education. I believe I’ve heard every set of parents in our church small group (none of whom homeschool) express their concern over choosing the right school for their kids, or ask for prayers for wisdom regarding their child’s education. We are all just trying to do what is best for our own children, and we all know how complicated it can be to make the right choices!

Parents, let’s make sure we invest into finding more and better ways to teach our kids – not just academically speaking! Let’s try to embrace the role of teacher in their lives and do it to the best of our ability.

-Jessica

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Second image courtesy of author. 

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