On (not) Keeping Up With the Joneses

The poor Joneses – they get such a bad rap.
They really shouldn’t – they’re a great family. They’ve got it all together. Mom’s hair is always brushed, and I think she’s got make up on. All the children are wearing socks, and all the socks match. They have a neat and tidy homeschool room – it looks like a tiny classroom, and you’re pretty sure you’ve pinned it – twice. All the Jones children excel in everything – they’re learning Latin, doing Spenserian penmanship with ink they made themselves using quills from their organically raised turkeys. The children work together on larger projects, and you’ve never seen them fight. They play heir instruments beautifully, solo and as a group.
We love the Jones.
We want to be the Joneses.
The Joneses make us want to weep.
It’s 10 am. You haven’t managed to put on clothes, let alone find a hairbrush. Last week, most of your makeup ended up on the hall wall — and the dog. You tried setting up a cute little classroom, but nothing ever got put back in your little cubicles and cubbies. And your living room – in your living room Peter Pan, Ramona, The Lorax, Madeline, Gulliver, Anne of Green Gables, Stewart Little, Coraline– fallen heroes strewn about on the literary battlefield. The littles have taken dark crayons to several workbooks, the baby might have just eaten a penny, and the tween has asked to go to school. You peruse the Pottery Barn catalogue while you’re in the bathroom, and fantasize living in the PB Catalogue. It’s peaceful there. There’s no peanut butter fingerprints on the desk globe. Parent Jones’ living room looks like that. (What is crashing in the family room? was that glass?)
And that’s the time – the time where you want to stay hidden in the bathroom, in your bunny slippers, and cry, or rend your clothes (but you can’t rend your clothes, because you haven’t dressed for the day), or send all the children – even the infant – to school. You despair that you won’t ever be the Joneses. That your children won’t ever wear matching socks – or even socks at all. You despair that you’re a complete homeschooling failure.
But here’s the thing: you’re not a homeschooling failure. You’ve only failed at being Parent Jones. And being Parent Jones wasn’t why you started homeschooling to begin with, was it? You didn’t wake up one morning and think, “I want to be Parent Jones; I shall homeschool my children.” No – you didn’t even meet Parent Jones until your started homeschooling. You started homeschooling for one hundred other reasons – you really like your kids, your eldest can’t sit still, you middle one has special needs that weren’t being met, you had academic reasons, religious reasons, family reasons. Becoming Parent Jones was never on that list.
So let’s take an inventory:
Are your kids healthy? Are they happy? Are they learning? If you’re honest with yourself and aren’t too hard on yourself, the answer is probably yes to each of these – even that last one. If the answer is “no,” then we need to do two things: 1) a reality check (is that really a “no” on learning, or do you mean that your kid hasn’t completed a certain number of worksheets? These are not mutually exclusive things) 2) an friend-intervention. (If your kids aren’t happy and healthy, you need a second friend (not just me) to tell you this: start doing things a different way – and keep trying different things until you get to a “yes”).
So your kids are happy, and healthy, and learning – why are you still feeling so bad about yourself? It’s because you’re still thinking you should be Parent Jones. But your spousal unit didn’t marry Parent Jones – your spousal unit married you. And your children aren’t the Jones children – they’re your children. (And that one anxious child you have – going to visit the Jones amps up her anxiety in much the same way it amps up yours – *he’s afraid if *he touches the wrong thing, it’ll break and wreck the whole house and the Jones won’t like h** anymore and you’ll never be invited there again, and everyone will be mad at h** – that’s why that one just likes to be at your home – it’s comfortable and it’s comforting, and *he can let h** guard down and relax. That’s why most kids (and their adults) like coming to your house – there’s no associated angst).
Let’s talk about why you did start homeschooling. You started because you wanted something different for your kidlets. With more than one, you quickly realized you wanted something different for each one –and you realized that homeschooling gave you the ability to let each one develop at h** own individual pace.
I know, I know – the Jones kids can recite their states and capitals – in alphabetical order. They can do arithmetic in their heads and something called “Base 7” with some finger manipulation. They’re great at spelling bees and chess tournaments and whatever mathletes is. But you’re back to looking at them. Let’s look at your kids. Let’s look at your budding zoologist – that grubby four year old whose gekkos and froggies you keep nearly putting through the wash with the grass-stained knees that aren’t ever going to wash out. Let’s talk about your writer – the quiet one who spends all of h** time in books, and has a dozen secret diaries. Let’s take a gander at your tree climber and fort builder – yeah, the one who’s going to grow up to serve in our army and is going to spend all h** time in the woods of Bavaria, playing the oppositional forces and training our troops so they don’t make the same mistake when the stakes are high. Let’s chat about the baby, who seems most likely to die from ingesting something poisonous – well, let’s maybe not chat about h** – the jury’s still out. Keep a better eye on that one, and you’ll have a stunning toxicologist in the future.
Start making some lists – write down all the cool things your kids do. They do a lot of cool things. Your job here is to pay attention to what they *are* doing, and stop worrying about what they aren’t. Your job here is to be the best parent you’re going to be, so your kids can be the best people they’re going to be. Your job isn’t to be Joneses. Your job isn’t to keep up with the Joneses. Your job is to be the best you and yours that you can be.
We need the Joneses in our society – who’s going to keep us supplied with Pottery Barn catalogues for our rich fantasy life of living in a house where nothing ever is out of place? But we don’t all need to be the Joneses – we need messy, creative people; we need chaos and fun and we need entomologists.
~Jen GS