The homeschool path is a hard one to walk for a people-pleaser.
How can we stop being overly concerned with what others think?
Is it possible to homeschool if you’re a people-pleaser?
For most of my life, I have been a people-pleaser. Worse than that, as a young mom, I had this unrealistic expectation that if I were doing the right thing, everyone in my life, who loved me and wanted the best for me, would cheer me on. Naive. I know. I’ve learned that the hard way. The truth is, people do what makes sense to them. And most people expect others to do what makes sense to them too because it makes sense. This path is a hard one to walk for a homeschooling people-pleaser.
As a child, the most effective discipline was looking at me with a disapproving glance. That bounced me right back in bounds. So school was easy for me. On the first day of school, every teacher would lay out their classroom rules. Following those rules reduced disapproving glances and earned appreciative smiles instead. I liked smiles. Even among my peers, I watched for smiles. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school, but I was often friends with them.
No, I wasn’t perfect. I went through teenage rebellion, but even that was kept in the realm of normal expectation and I was skilled at hiding it from most people. After all, too much rebellion would draw disapproving glances. Everywhere I went, I knew what was expected, I delivered, and they smiled. Somewhere along the way, I misinterpreted the smiles as evidence that I was making good and right decisions for myself. Sometimes I was, but sometimes I was just meeting the other person’s expectations.
My Controversial Decision
The first time I chose to significantly disregard those expectations was at the end of college. Jonathan was in daycare, I was pregnant with Joshua, and Jeff still had a couple years of school to go. We had decided that Jeff would go part-time to work more, and I would stay full-time to complete school as quickly as possible. So that meant I finished my Bachelor’s degree and had enough time to get through my Master’s before Jeff finished. Completing a Master’s degree was the next step for my plan to become a French Horn professor. So as I was wrapping up my last semester, I began the application process for Master’s work. It’s what I was expected to do.
But one day, driving with Jeff back to Abilene from a weekend visit to our family, Jeff said, “What if you stayed home with the boys?” At first, I couldn’t even make sense of those words. I was raised by a working mom with no expectation of being a stay-at-home mom. I thought that was only for wealthy families–a much cushier gig than I had signed on for in my mind. But as I entertained that thought for the briefest of moments, it was as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders and I could breathe. This is a good plan–a wholesome and responsible decision. And I expected smiles (the people-pleaser’s green light).
It’s a value sort.
I got some, except from a few music professors, mostly women. They couldn’t understand why I was willing to waste my talent like that. So naturally, I second-guessed myself. After all, these were teachers and I had been taught that teachers were to be trusted and obeyed. Thankfully a conversation with my friend and fellow music student, Michelle, snapped me out of the bewilderment with a simple retort, “What should only the stupid, untalented moms stay at home with their kids?”
Michelle helped me realize, perhaps for the first time, that life decisions are not always black and white, right and wrong. We have to be clear on what we’re aiming for, and this is a value sort. I had a value for becoming a horn professor, and to do that, the music professors were right. I should complete my Master’s degree. But Jeff and I shared a higher value of taking care of our family to the best of our ability, and to do that, I should stay home with our children. These early, formative years in their lives would go by so quickly and we wanted to be the ones to shape who they were becoming.
This is Laura. She’s one of those young homeschooling moms who occasionally picks my brain for ideas and input. More than that, we’ve had the privilege of becoming friends over the past 11 years of doing life together mostly in our church. Laura is a talented writer and illustrator. She just finished illustrating a children’s book shortly after helping to write a feature length film that her husband, Brian, who is in video and production helped produce. Both of them have been very instrumental in the development of our second-born, Joshua, as a videographer. Together, Brian and Laura just launched their own production company. They have 4 kids, ages 5, 4, 2, and almost 1. And they’ve just started their homeschool adventure with Tim, their oldest. We’re both busy moms, but we managed to find some time to catch up over breakfast one Saturday morning.
Everyone faces the temptation to be a people-pleaser.
Julie: You probably have a little bit different experience I’m guessing. Than the typical new homeschooler because Brian was homeschooled, so your in-laws are pro homeschool. Your big brother is pro homeschool. So you’re not the first one to make this decision to your parents. So you probably have some support, my guess is you could end up with too many people wanting to give advice? Maybe? Have you had to start navigating any of that?
Laura: I have not had that. I really like a lot of input and I don’t feel too bad to get input and then not do it. (Not a people-pleaser!)
That was not me at her age. How I wish it had been!
Laura: And June, Brian’s mom, is awesome. We have such a good relationship. She’s just awesome. She has never been forceful. She’s had thoughts and she’s offered thoughts, but never in a boundary crossing way.
Julie: I had one friend that she decided to homeschool and her mother-in-law started giving her all kinds of textbooks. Like highschool textbooks even. She just started giving her all these textbooks. It was clear that it was expected that this is how she would homeschool. I was like, “Oh baby!”
To be clear, this is not me doing the…”I’m asking…for a friend… thing.” That really was a different friend’s experience and I was very thankful that was not me that time!
As I’m talking with Laura, I think back to those early days–when a normal conversation with a friend or family member took a sudden turn. Typically, I had just shared some new idea or insight I was excited about implementing in our homeschool adventure and it was met with an unanticipated response that would send me spiraling.
I am something of a trailblazer. I tend to be pretty entrepreneurial, and rarely accept the notion that the way it has always been done is the way it should be done. And I enjoy innovation, creating systems, and trying out new theories and ideas. Unfortunately, my experience taught me that many times, these personality characteristics draw the glances rather than the smiles. On more than one occasion I have been asked, “Why can’t you just do things the way they’re done?” So I had a hard time moving forward until I had won the approval, the smile, I thought I needed as confirmation that I was making a good choice. (Ugh! Major people-pleaser!)
Stories to Inspire the People-Pleaser
Many times, the movies that resonate deepest in our hearts are the ones that put forth a hero with which we closely identify. For me, some of those stories include Brad Pitt’s character in Money Ball, Flik in A Bug’s Life, and Punchinello in You Are Special. I’m trusting you are probably familiar with the first two, but perhaps you don’t know the story of Punchinello. Written by Max Lucado in the late 90s, You Are Special, is a beloved children’s book that I can’t tell you how many times Jeff and I have read to our children over the years. In fact, it’s still on our shelf, now waiting for the day when we will get to read it to our grandchildren.
For dramatic effect, I’m enlisting the help of the YouTube channel, YoungPraise, who delightfully reads this story because storytime isn’t storytime without a foreign accent and some background music. Without further ado, I give you scenes from You Are Special. It’s the story of the Wemmicks, small wooden people, who were carved by a woodworker named Eli.
You Are Special by Max Lucado
His workshop sat on a hill overlooking their village.
Each Wemmick was different. Some had big noses, others had large eyes, some were tall and others were short, and some wore hats, others wore coats. But all were made by the same carver and all lived in the village.
And all day, every day, the Wemmicks did the same thing: They gave each other stickers. Each Wemmick had a box of golden star stickers and a box of gray dot stickers. Up and down the streets all over the city, people spent their days sticking stars or dots on one another.
The pretty ones, those with smooth wood and fine paint, always got stars. But if the wood was rough or the paint chipped, the Wemmicks gave dots.
The talented ones got stars, too…
Do you recognize the stars and dots? We give them every day as smiles and glances.
Still others knew big words or could sing pretty songs. Everyone gave them stars.
The fuel of the people-pleaser…
Some Wemmicks had stars all over them! Every time they got a star it made them feel so good! It made them want to do something else and get another star.
Others, though, could do little. They got dots.
Punchinello was one of these.
Ok, so I’m not exactly Punchinello. I was actually one of the Wemmicks who learned how to get mostly stars–a professional people-pleaser. But, it is the lesson Punchinello learns that connected the dots for me in my real life…no pun intended.
One day he met a Wemmick who was unlike any he’d ever met. She had no dots or stars. She was just wooden. Her name was Lucia.
It wasn’t that people didn’t try to give her stickers; it’s just that the stickers didn’t stick.
As you can probably guess, Punchinello wanted to be like Lucia. And I had had enough glances that I did too. Could I turn from my people-pleaser perspective and be more like Laura and Lucia–welcome a lot of input without the pressure to always accept it?
So he asked the stickerless Wemmick how she did it.
“It’s easy,” Lucia replied. “Every day I go see Eli.”
“Yes, Eli. The woodcarver. I sit in the workshop with him.”
“Why don’t you find out for yourself? Go up the hill. He’s there.”
And with that the Wemmick who had no stickers turned and skipped away.
Of course, Punchinello, like most of us in his situation was hesitant to go meet with Eli. He expected more of the same…glances…I mean dots. But, eventually he did, and Eli delivers the message of the story…
The message of the story…
Eli stooped down and picked him up and set him on the bench. “Hmm,” the maker spoke thoughtfully as he looked at the gray dots. “Looks like you’ve been given some bad marks.”
“I didn’t mean to, Eli. I really tried hard.”
“Oh, you don’t have to defend yourself to me, child. I don’t care what the other Wemmicks think.”
“No, and you shouldn’t either. Who are they to give stars or dots? They’re Wemmicks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.”
Eli and Punchinello talk for a while longer before Punchinello turns the conversation to the difference with Lucia.
“Why don’t the stickers stay on her?”
The maker spoke softly. “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them.”
“The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
Eli smiled, “You will, but it will take time…”
I was with Punchinello–I didn’t understand, not fully. I mean, I got the part about paying attention to what matters most to me. That connects back to the value sort I mentioned earlier. Although, those simple words of wisdom, “The stickers only stick if you let them,” was a lot harder to put into practice than a children’s book portrays. Shocking, right?
The Secret of the People-Pleaser
It wasn’t until much later that I realized there was a hidden message in the story of Punchinello. As a Wemmick, he wasn’t just a victim of stars and dots, he also was a participant, a perpetrator, by giving stars and dots. The story never shows him doing that, but the narrator tells us at one point that, “The few times he went outside, he hung around other Wemmicks who had a lot of dots. He felt better around them.” So it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to think he had probably given some stars and dots in his time too, to make himself feel better.
What difference does this make? In his book, Boundaries, Henry Cloud explains that when we judge others, we are saying that we know best how they “ought” to do something, and usually that means they “ought” to do it the way it makes sense to us. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about issues of right and wrong. We’re talking about preferences, and a lot of us have a hard time telling the difference between the two–especially the people-pleaser. The point Dr. Cloud makes is that if we are in the habit of condemning others over their preferences, we naturally assume that they are doing the same to us. So we set up this negative fear-based cycle for ourselves. Sometimes we call it fear of man or being a people-pleaser, and it hurts us and those around us.
Stop the judging. Stop the people-pleasing.
When I read that, it nailed me right between the eyes. I know I can be a very judgmental person. That causes me to set up that negative cycle for myself, which leads me to try to only secure the smiles–whether that means defending my choice until I win the person over to my way of thinking so I receive a star rather than a dot, or sometimes it means that I let an out-of-the-box opportunity pass me by because I might receive disapproving glances if I don’t succeed. Either way, my judgment leads me to be a people-pleaser.
The more I reflected on this concept, the more clearly I could see the importance of homeschooling, actually the importance of school choice. It’s the freedom for parents to choose for themselves what their children need, in the way of education and life, in order for them to become well-adjusted, productive adults in the next generation. It seems like such a simple and obvious concept, but the reality is as long as I let the stickers stick, fear easily controls me.
As Americans, we have been trained for several generations to trust the experts, who are supposed to know more than we do about how we should live our lives. And as a homeschooler, I know I still have a chance of earning stars and avoiding dots if I stick to the public school scope and sequence, adopt the common core, run on the same school schedule, have my kids participate in standardized testing every year–and to make sure we don’t look bad, teach to the test as well. I’m push my kids who are gifted in language, but not math, to do more math and not language (or vice versa) so they are quote/un-quote well-rounded.
Watch your value sort.
I’m not talking about compliance with the law. Depending on the state you live in, some of these limitations are legal requirements and you should absolutely adhere to the law of your state. But these are not legal obligations in Texas and more often, I work really, really hard to make sure we look like everybody else…to outperform them…but to look like everybody else as we do so. And that is a waste of the gifts each of my children are.
This is such an important point that I can’t do it justice in the wrap up of one episode. I will elaborate on it much more as we go further into the season, starting with Episode 4. Until then, it is enough to be aware that we must exercise the courage to guide, and train, and educate, and coach our children. And we must restrain our tendency to judge the way others accept that same responsibility. (No people-pleasers allowed!)
Perhaps a quote from the Preface of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis summarizes it best:
“When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more…That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”