About four years ago I took some teacher training classes and had the privilege of being taught by a wonderful nun who had been teaching for over 50 years. I also had the privilege of taking the class with Salesian Sisters, nuns who dedicate their lives to teaching. As a homeschooler I soaked up every minute of that class, but there was one particular lesson that has stuck with me because its application reached so far: the lesson of the seven stages of a relationship.
At first I was flummoxed as to what a relationship had to do with teaching, let alone these seven stages. Now, Sister Regina (a Sister of Saint John) was an arm-waver, so when I was perplexed and asked, “Everything?” She waved her arms in circles and said, “Yes, every relationship, even with work. The shine always wears off the penny.”
She was right. But here’s the brilliant bit, not only will YOU as teacher go through this cycle, so will your students! I don’t know about you, but when I realize something is only a stage, it seems much less consuming and emotional. It’s more of a natural process of growth. The steps don’t all happen in the same progression for everyone, but if you can see yourself and your children as naturally moving through stages of growth in your relationship and roles as homeschoolers, it releases the pressure on all of you. For instance, the terrible twos aren’t a sign that your child was born with a bad character; it’s just a natural progression of their learning! This too shall pass.
The seven stages are as follows:
Young love, excitement of a new job, a new house, your precious bundle is born and you are going to be the best parent ever –this is the stage of rose-colored glasses. Homeschooling! Yay! Posters, maps, curriculum shopping! Sharpened pencils, neat work spaces, tea time and poetry recitation will be cheered for! You will start every morning with organic breakfasts for the darlings, and things are going to be amazing. They will be the smartest kids ever, skip grades, and memorize Pericles’ Funeral Oration in 4th grade. You are going to rock this thing.
Wait a minute, this isn’t at all what you thought it was going to be. The shine is off the penny. Your new boss is human after all, the washer in the new house broke, your new spouse gets really cranky when they’re tired and says such stupid things. Your homeschool students have decided they hate math, are totally unmotivated, and they can now push your buttons All. Day. Long. And they pound them ferociously. You have realized that a child’s learning progression isn’t consistent, and you’ve been stuck in a grammar hole for months. The dog just puked under the table, your baby has not stopped screaming, and if one more person tells you how to fix it all, you just might slap them.
3. Conflict/Power Struggles
Wait, this was all supposed to make you so happy! Things were supposed to be amazing, blissful, and you’re thinking that your expectations might have been too high. You are now reevaluating things, and you’re questioning yourself and those with whom you’re struggling. You might decide that this person needs to change and maneuver yourself to teach them a lesson. You may not like them as much as you thought you would (yes, even your children). You wonder if it was a totally wrong decision, possibly the worst decision you ever made in your life. How did you not ever see this side of them before? You’re scared and really wonder how you misunderstood everything. You’re going to ruin your child, they’ll never be educated, and the cute puppy just chewed off the back of your couch. You might put your kid back into public school because it’s the only way you will save the relationship. Heck, it’s the only way peace will ever visit your house again.
Despite how you feel in those moments, this is a good sign of growth! It is a part of the process. Yes, it’s hard and it pinches, but every relationship will have to move through it if they are going to grow into a more mature relationship. Now you get to realistically look at things and make adjustments of your ability and expectations.
4. Second Honeymoon
Whew, you made it through, and you’re back on track. You’re letting the kids make toast for breakfast and letting them sleep in another hour so everyone’s not crying first thing in the morning. People’s attitudes are changing. Things are flowing better. The puppy can now sit and you’ve almost got a solid stay command learned. The baby has worked through a growth spurt and because you can sleep, you’re feeling human again. Your husband forgot to walk the dog (he always does that!), but he did remember you had a special meeting at the library tonight and he got take out so you could have some time to get ready. You realized that although this homeschooling thing is hard, you’ve noticed that your family and children are growing closer and having more fun together. Things aren’t so bad after all. You remember what attracted you in the first place.
5. Growth and Stability
This is where the nice flow hits. Things are good. Maybe a ripple here and there, but on the whole, you’ve reached some equilibrium. You’ve worked on things, made changes, adjusted attitudes, and this is where the fruit of those changes starts to be seen. Everyone is working well together. Communication and connectedness are at a nice, sustainable level.
Something always happens. You crack open the assignment book to find that they’ve been checking the boxes but not doing the work. They forgot everything they’ve learned in math in the last two months. Something isn’t clicking, and you need to go back to the beginning and rework those basic skills. They hate their online professor. You can’t seem to teach them this one thing, and you’re struggling and at loggerheads because you’re talking past each other. Your mother-in-law said something stupid and you decided it was your husband’s fault. You boss gave someone else credit for your work. Here come the terrible twos. The house needs a new roof, and you just had to spend all your extra money on a transmission repair. Oh, and you just found out your pregnant again, and the baby is no where near being potty trained.
But this time, instead of being catastrophic, you now reach into your tool belt and just make some adjustments. You readjust expectations. Maybe you haven’t been setting the bar high enough, and your child is unmotivated and bored out of their skull. You decide to let them take on more responsibility for their own education. You have to then lower the bar again because the harder workload needs more time to accomplish. You find a curriculum that works for the child. You look at this list and realize that you child is now stage 3 in their new grammar curriculum-don’t forget, they are not only moving through these stages with you, as a parent and teacher, but with their own subjects and siblings.
The idea is that now you’re at a point where now crises are managed instead of making you reevaluate your initial decisions.
7. Mature Intimacy
This is how we roll. Yes, you will have your bad days – everyone does -but instead of taking them as a sign of the impending apocalypse, you just make popcorn, put on a movie, and know that you can start all over again tomorrow. Or you make them take a shower, hand them another cup of coffee and a snack and crack the books open again. You decide that you’ve been cooped up for too long and go for a hike, a museum trip, a petting zoo, the library. You see that your child needs some shoring up in this one skill — and because now you know what to look for, you can catch it before you all fall and lose months. You can have bad days and not take it out on each other, blame each other, hate each other, or quit – because now you know that this is a stage, and not a definitive expression of the relationship.
Congratulations, you’re running the marathon.