Confronting Envy


It started innocently enough with an online sale. The kind of online sale that let’s you meet likeminded parents: cloth diapers, children’s bikes. This one was for a ring sling. While teaching the buyer to use my ring sling, we had stricken a conversation about twins. This young mama had 6 month-old twins, her first children. I looked at her with the confidence of the mother who has it all figured out and said: “I know how tough it is right now but don’t worry: they’ll sleep someday, it gets better.” She said: “Oh sleep is no problem! Since they were born we made sure to have a really consistent bedtime routine and when we tuck them in their beds they know it’s sleep time and they just go to sleep!”

Well, I try hard not to swear but F-my-luck. I haven’t slept a good night since 2009 and having twins nearly killed me. From the day they were born until Lucas was 16 months I did not sleep longer than 45 minutes in a row. When he was 10 months-old I realized that I had seen every single hour on my alarm clock, every single night, for the last 10 months so I got rid of the alarm clock. It was easier than getting rid of the baby. That young mom’s innocent comment made me feel like maybe I had missed something. Maybe I could have been sleeping all this time and my restless nights were due to a lack of skills or determination. And those negative feelings reopened a door I had long thought closed: the door of envy.

St. Thomas Aquinas defined envy as sorrow at the good fortune of others. Its flip side is rejoicing at the downfall of others. Envy is that silent “YES!!” moment when we learn of the downfall of someone we had been envying. As if something in us died when our neighbor succeeded.

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I struggled for many years with envy after my older children were born. I was convinced that my decision to put my career on hold while my children were young (ha! Famous last words as I still have young children almost 20 years later) was the right decision for our family. Yet, I looked with envy at the material things my friends who worked outside the home could afford. Vacations, cute clothes, and my holy grail, matching furniture. I mentally wished that their children would grow-up troubled as if I needed to see the proof that having a parent at home was better for children. As if nothing I was doing would have been worth it unless my children were happy and their children were screwed-up.

Now that I am a bit older and a bit wiser — and that I have a house full of matching IKEA furniture — envy doesn’t rear its ugly head the same way it did when I was younger. I no longer envy material things as much as accomplishments. I envy confidence, safety, and a sense of control. Which is ironic isn’t it, since I decided to have a large family? But this is how fear works in the darkest confines of our souls, keeping us from becoming a better, bigger, version of ourselves.

I caught myself wishing that this young mom’s twins would suddenly stop sleeping so well. To show her that she wasn’t really in control. I wished that she would discover that her parenting skills at imposing a bedtime routine that sent her kids straight into Morpheus’ arms had everything to do with her children’s natural disposition to sleep on cue. I assumed that they must have been bottle-fed in hospital and molded to an institutional schedule. What are we breastfeeding mothers to do when our healthy children protest our best attempts to conform them to our schedule? We are not going home at the end of our shift!

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A few months later, I learned that a friend with children had sold her house and purchased a similar-sized house in a less desirable suburban neighbourhood. The difference in prices allowed her and her husband to pay-off their mortgage and live comfortably debt-free.  I could just taste the freedom. Completely debt-free, home owning, new vehicle driving, holidaying, while in their prime earning years, with school-aged children…. Life: does it get better than that?

Well, of course the husband, you know…. And the wife well… That’s not mentioning the way their kids…. And the issues at school… Here comes envy again with its messy greasy hands leaving fingerprints all over my best wishes. Envy is the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. It stains what should be beautiful and inspiring and filters it through a dirty lens. Turned on itself, it makes us look like a diminished version of ourselves. Envy is self-limitation. It’s locking ourselves in a cage, with the key, wishing every one would join us in when we could simply fly away.

I realized that my envy was not only holding me down, it was preventing me from growing from my experiences and choices, whether good or bad. It also made small-fry of the fruits of those experiences and forks in the road. My life as a mother of 9 is fodder for this blog and countless helpful interventions with friends and strangers alike. I made poor financial and academic decisions that set me back in my career ambitions and my financial independence but these decisions have lead me down a path where I met dear friends, learned valuable lessons and grew more than I ever did playing it safe. Envy renders us myopic, deliberately blurring out distance and perspective, only allowing us to see what is directly in front of us. IMG_4132

How many “mommy wars” and “mama drama” are rooted in envy? How many poor choices are motivated by envy? How farther along would we be if we simply chose to learn from those who have done things better, or even just differently, than we have?

C.S. Lewis described hell as a door locked on the inside. When we let envy     pollute our relationships with others, we are not only locking ourselves in but expecting everyone to join us.

Homeschooling sanity


Whenever you are out and about with a gaggle of homeschooled kids, someone is bound to ask if they are sick or on holiday. And whenever the children answer “No we are homeschooled!” someone is bound to reply one of two things:

Oh, I could never do that, I don’t have the patience!

Or

Oh, I could never do that, my kids wouldn’t listen to me!

Ask my kids, they’ll tell you I don’t have the patience either. Really, who in their right mind would choose to lock themselves-up in a house all day with a bunch of school-aged kids? Honestly, I don’t know. But if you think that homeschooling moms have a special gift (or illness) that gives them supernatural powers of patience and understanding, you are sorely mistaken. I have yet to meet a homeschooling mom who never had a day (week, month) where she thought of calling the school’s registration desk right ‘freakin’ now. Or just put her kids at the bus stop and hope that the driver wouldn’t notice and take them away.

Three people have asked me (separately) how to stay sane while homeschooling. According to some of my closest family members, my sanity is (A) questionable, and (B) in danger. But if you come closer, I will tell you that the question of staying sane while spending my every waking hour with my own children kept me from homeschooling for the last 8 years. Yes, you read that right. My husband and I started talking about homeschooling 12 years ago and we kept our now-18-year-old daughter at home for grade 1. Within 6 months, I was struggling so badly we decided to stop homeschooling. That’s not quite the whole story but it is all you need to understand that I GET IT. I know what you mean. This failure has been weighing heavily on me ever since, not the least because I believe so fervently that homeschooling can bring the best out of children. Before we re-launched this year, I had to spend some time in deep thoughts (and prayer) on why we had failed the first time and what we would do differently this time.

First, this blog post will not be a grocery list of concrete things to do. I think that emotional balance is mostly in your head, meaning that if your head and heart are not healthy, no amount of shopping sprees, traveling and weekends away will restore it. I also think that concrete things – like hiring a cleaning lady or going to the gym – are very circumstantial. In other words, it might not work for everyone in their current circumstances. Whenever someone suggests that I do x,y,z “while the babies nap” it reminds me that my babies no longer nap and it makes me feel even more discouraged and overwhelmed. I want to encourage you! As a result, I will stay away from suggestions that hinge on having more time or more money (usually both) because if my life is any indication, they are both in short supply.

Before we dig-in, I would like to specify that the sentiments and dispositions of the mind expressed in that blog post are my own. I am not saying that you should feel the same way. I strongly believe that happiness has to come from within and that’s why my approach to homeschooling sanity is to work on my own heart and soul as opposed to trying to control my circumstances. In today’s world, we are more likely to blame others and the limitations they impose on our choices than turn our gaze inward. If you are looking for a “Top 10 tips that will save your sanity for sure,” you may have knocked on the wrong door.

1. Accept the pace. Homeschooling is hard. The first step in remaining sane is to accept that what you are doing is hard work. It’s physically and emotionally demanding. It’s a counter-cultural decision for which you will face opposition and criticism. Sometimes from your own children. You will feel pressure to perform and turn out prodigies. Your children’s character flaws and temperaments will be in your face, hour after hour, day after day. Homeschooling is hard but it is worth it. Find examples in your life of situations that were difficult but ultimately worth it… Having children, getting married, maybe conceiving or adopting your children was an uphill battle filled with heartache. Accept that homeschooling is the path less traveled and there is a reason for that. As my husband often says about having 9 children – but it applies to homeschooling: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

2. Mind your head. If you are struggling with mental illness, even if it is a mild case of depression or anxiety, you will need to deal with it first. When we tried to homeschool for the first time 12 years ago, I was struggling with undiagnosed post-partum depression. Homeschooling chewed me up and spat me out. It takes solid footings to lock yourself up in a house with a bunch of young children day after day.

3. Remember why you are doing this. There are as many reasons to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. Homeschooling is a deliberate decision but it’s easy to forget when the children are swinging from the chandeliers and the school bus drives by your house. Whether you knew you would homeschool since your child’s birth or fell into homeschooling accidentally when the system failed your child, you are homeschooling for a reason. Write it down, stick it to your fridge or set regular reminders on your smartphone, but remember why you are doing this or your child will be back in school within 6 weeks.

4. Mind your marriage. Unless you are parenting solo, you will need the support of your spouse to homeschool. It goes beyond the decision to homeschool. You will need support and encouragement and your spouse is equally invested in the success of the endeavour. A dysfunctional or unloving marriage will completely crumble under the pressures of homeschooling. As your house becomes your base of operation, you will need love and harmony in the home like never before. Your marriage relationship sets the tone for all the other relationships in your home. If you face a lot of opposition outside the home from your friends and family, you will need the support and encouragement of your spouse all the more. My husband is my unquestioning cheerleader. Good day, bad day, I’m always doing great. Poor curriculum purchase? It’s ok, we’ll sell it on Kijiji. When I think I’m failing the children, he reminds me that a slow day is not a fail. He keeps me grounded and centered and I could not homeschool without him. If your marriage is strained or failing, deal with that first. Your children will benefit more from an intact and happy marriage than from homeschooling. This is the truth.

5. Put your oxygen mask on first. Don’t wait until you are struggling. When my daughter underwent surgery at 4 months and again at 4 years, her medical caregivers explained to me that if I dealt with the pain before it became unbearable, I was likely able to control it with Tylenol. This meant giving her pain medicine before she was in pain. If I waited too long to medicate her and the pain became acute, she would need much stronger medicine to be comfortable. In the context of homeschooling and being stuck at home with a bunch of young children, it means that small self-care practices can go a long way if you start them before you need to. Prayer, meditation, physical exercise and a coffee date with yourself will help if done regularly. Don’t wait until you need therapy and a month away at a resort.

6. Find your support system. Finding supportive friends in the homeschooling community is key to maintaining your perspective. You will need people who can listen to your good days but especially your bad days without judgement. Your circle of support will help you remember why you are homeschooling and help you get back up when you stumble. You may not live in a vibrant homeschooling community as I do and you may have to turn to social media and the Internet for support. That’s ok as long as your circle of support builds you up. The Internet can be a nasty space. Don’t waste time in online communities that leave you discouraged and defeated.

7. Work on character before curriculum. If you can’t get any compliance from your children, if you must yell to get your kids moving 10 times out of 10, if your relationship with your teenagers is strained on a good day and downright hostile the rest of the time, you need to deal with that first. It doesn’t mean that homeschooling is not for you. In fact, homeschooling might be the best decision you made in years. But you won’t make any headway in math and grammar until you have a better relationship with your children. Trying to teach curriculum to children who do not respect you will sap your will to live, I can promise you that. Deal with character issues first, even if it means that you don’t get to curriculum for a few months. You will make-up for lost time once you have a solid working and loving relationship with your children.

8. Don’t fight the change. Homeschooling is a lifestyle as well as an education decision. Whereas the choice between public and private school is an education decision, the decision to homeschool will affect your entire life. It will completely turn your daily routines and expectations on their heads. If you try to live as if you had simply made an education decision, you will burn out in no time flat. Your children are now with you all day. Your house will get messier, your spare times will get fewer and your school-based pressure valves – like art, outdoor play and physical activity – will disappear. You will learn to be happy where you are and with what you have but you will need to give yourself the chance to learn. I used to be the mom waltzing down the Staples aisle in September singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. Homeschooling is a journey of learning for the parents too! Approach the growing pains with acceptance and let the challenges grow on you. Fighting change will not work.

You can follow our journey in pictures on Instagram where I post as @happy_chaos_

Do one thing a day that scares you


I always thought this was the stupidest advice. It usually comes with examples like “Jump off a plane” (with a parachute) or “swim with sharks.” I always think “You’re supposed to be afraid of sharks!” That’s why the human race has made it for so long. That’s why have the Darwin Awards.

Do one thing a day (month, year…) drips with self-indulgence. The bucket-list variety of fear-facing is often costly, self-centered and just plain counter-intuitive. When someone pays a small fortune to indulge in a one-shot deal, the cynic thinks the money would have been better spent elsewhere. No greater good is advanced when the affluent takes navel-gazing to a dangerous level. When it’s not dangerous, it tuns into a long Eat, Pray, Love -style insult to decency, an ode to emptiness.

And yet, heroism is made of the same willingness to overcome fears and obstacles, to face the insurmountable, to push the limits of intuition and self-preservation. Oddly enough, the self-centered and the self-less share the strength to push through: one outward, the other inward. It breaks my heart when I think about the wasted potential for greatness sunk in a dark hole of egotism.

Fear facing is what places us in front of our limitations, allows us to look at them in the eye and walk over them. But more often than not, the biggest growth happens quietly, discreetly, in a whisper rather than a bang. When we choose to give of ourselves past the point where it hurts. When we find meaning through challenges and difficulties. The fears that paralyze us through our ordinary lives are not the big ones, like sharks and heights, but the smaller fears of failure, judgement, discomfort and pain. The limitations we need to overcome are not physical obstacles but self-imposed, dictated by the demands of comfort, affluence, predictability. The real hero doesn’t shop which fears are worth overcoming. Real heroes face the fears that are thrown at them with grace, dignity and strength.

I have no desire to swim with sharks, jump-off a plane or sink my family’s hard-earned money into some international adventure tourism attraction. I just pray that I will have the courage to overcome the insurmountable when it shows up at my door. When fear will choose me, instead of me choosing it. And I also pray for the courage to overcome the molehills that my fear of failure make into so many mountains. Because what is the use of swimming with sharks when I’m still afraid of high school science?

What are your scary monsters?