I really hated having to write the last post that I did, because although homeschooling has put a major strain on us, Mary’s blossomed so much from it. No, this post is not about my little ones growing up. It’s about my biggest one, and teaching her that… well, no, she is not the baby anymore.
Homeschooling really is not the terribly negative thing I made it out to be in yesterday’s post, for the sake of keeping it concise and on the point. I wrote about never being so unhappy before, but I’m only unhappy about having everything I sacrifice (to homeschool) be so drastically taken for granted. (Of course, I realize this is just what teenagers do sometimes. Still, it was a golden learning opportunity for her: people won’t take crap like that lying down. I think she got the point. I think that was good.)
When I don’t feel that way, I know that what we sacrifice for this lifestyle is mostly worth the benefit. And genuinely, I don’t always feel taken for granted. In fact, what stung most about… well, what I had to have my talk with Mary about, is that she’s been making such remarkable strides. I was blindsided. Her demeanor has really been turning around; I’ve noticed her being much kinder, going out of her way to do the responsible thing, and crediting home school for progress she could tell that she was making, before I’d even give her back a grade. (That showed me she was taking pride in a job well done, instead of refusing to try out of spite – which is what the first solid month of homeschool was all about).
Last week marked a turning point for us. Spencer and I decided that we’ll go ahead and try our hand at putting her back into a different school next year. Things have changed drastically since last year, both for the better and for the worse. The more I consider it, the more confident I am that this is a better time to do it than waiting until 9th grade.
What sort of got the ball rolling for me was actually something that isn’t going to seem like it’s even related. Stay with me…
The other day, Mary found out that a friend of ours – a parent from the neighborhood, who makes it abundantly obvious they adore Mary to pieces, wasn’t comfortable with her babysitting just yet. Mary came to Spencer and I about it, all puppy dog eyes and confusion. “They think I’m irresponsible,” she said, having just pried their daughter for the reason. “You don’t think I’m irresponsible, do you? They let [so-and-so] babysit. And I know how to change diapers and put Scarlett to bed and give her a bath and cook.” It was a blow to her ego, but Spencer and I were both very grateful, actually, that she found this out. We very gently told her that, well, we would probably make the same decision.
Most kids are good about buttering up an adult to get their way when it’s convenient — our girl could be a professional. Charm, to her, is like a switch at her disposal. I’ve never seen anyone so black and white with it before. She’ll literally go from using an Elvis lip to mock every warning out of my mouth, declaring tempestuously not to care about any measure I could possibly take to punish her — to suddenly laying a head on my shoulder, in the very next instant, pleading pretty, pretty please to be able to go to the mall… while she compliments my hair.
It’s impossible not to love the kid… and you can trust me on that, ’cause she ain’t afraid to test it.
It was good for her to see that all the conveniently planted charm in the world, without having a few solid character traits to back it up, won’t cut it in the real world. Namely, in this case, responsibility. She has become very capable lately, which is something to be proud of. But it’s only part of it, we told her. We said that showing she can be cool-headed and respectful, even when it may not suit her immediate purpose, would probably go a very long way from here.
It’s important to us that our kids not grow up feeling entitled. I think at a certain age that goes beyond just earning privileges around the house, like video games after homework. And Mary has always been our most entitled baby. When I married Spencer, the poor kid went from being an only child all her life to suddenly having a new mom and two siblings in the span of three years. We’ve always cut her a lot of slack, sympathizing with the facets of her life that do, genuinely, warrant some. We were always weary, for instance, of using the whole “you have to set an example for your little brother” angle on her, lest she resent him for it. I think some of the long term affects of those good intentions are beginning to manifest now in a less-than-desirable way. I don’t blame her for it a bit. But I think we’ve taught her to use sympathy as a way to navigate the world. I also think that now that she’s in a place in her life where there isn’t much to get sympathy about — let’s face it: the girl really does have it good — she’s sort of lost. Sort of grasping at straws, if you will.
I mean, if you have to make up stories to get sympathy from people who care enough about you to be concerned, I think that’s a pretty good indication that maybe you’ve developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Our entire life has been put on hold to show Mary that she’s our number one priority right now. Really, she’s never not been our number one priority. The only exception being, maybe, when Scarlett was in the hospital. Even then, as I recall, I was handling things over the phone that she was pulling between family members.
And let me interject that this is not just academically we’re talking about. She’s praised to the Heavens for treating her little brother with a respect that he is simply expected, at four, to show their little sister. She gets newer and vastly more expensive clothes three times as often, while growing at a fraction of the rate her smaller siblings do. And because her gifts are generally smaller in size, we wind up spending probably twice what we do on both her siblings COMBINED at Christmas. To us, she seems relatively appreciative. (Taking with a grain of salt, the bouts of ungratefulness that come with just being at a self-absorbed age, of course.) But maybe homeschooling, with all of the ways it forces us to put her needs so far above everyone else’s, is just too much. For all of us, including her.
I definitely am no fan of feeling like such a martyr.