The Loss of Confidence

Playing with bubbles and Zomes for math.
Playing with bubbles and Zomes for math.

I didn’t mean to take a several months long blog break. Sorry, y’all.

Did anyone else read about this study? Articles about it ran everywhere over the last few months, though that Wall Street Journal one is one of the more in depth takes. The gist is that parents of middle schoolers are the most depressed, unsure, and stressed. To those of you out there with middle schoolers, it probably comes as no surprise. I used to teach middle school and it makes perfect sense to me, but it still surprised me a little how hard this year has hit me.

Several of the news summaries of the study pointed out that even the most confident parents tend to second guess themselves in the middle school years. Isn’t it a little disconcerting when you fit a profile to such a tee? I don’t always think I’m doing thing right or perfect, but I am usually beyond confident that I’m doing okay and that it’ll all work out. That feeling went out the window over the last few months.

The main source of our struggles have been Mushroom’s anxiety. I’ve written about it before and there’s not some grand new insight I can share. However, it has forced us to change school dramatically and forced me to feel downtrodden and despondent on several occasions as I see him cry and struggle, both emotionally and, as a result, academically as well. When things are going well, he can solve any math problem, spell well enough to not look illiterate, read longer articles and discuss them with intelligence. That mostly went out the window over the last few months.

We’ve switched over to focusing on workbooks for Mushroom, which was painful to me in some ways to hand a child a pile of Evan-Moor and Critical Thinking workbooks and call it proper school, but I think it’s helping to have work that’s beyond straightforward and simple instead of complex projects and open ended discovery based math. Sometimes the biggest challenge is to teach the child you have and not the child you want.

And some things are going really well. BalletBoy is writing up a storm of bizarre crossover fanfiction. They’ve both been flying through a pile of reading about the Mayans and having fun learning about what made the Mayan civilization fall. Mushroom built a cool robot at his makerspace. BalletBoy advanced his level in ballet. They both read and enjoyed The Giver for school and had a bunch of cool conversations about it. Both of them immediately saw the parallels to Plato’s allegory of the cave, which made me feel like they got something out of our fall philosophy study.

And now it’s summer. We keep doing school in summer and Mushroom has maybe maybe turned a corner for now. So while I’m sure that I’ll keep second guessing myself more than ever, things keep moving on with highlights and lowlights. I just have to remember to focus on the positives. I love middle schoolers, really. The fact that it’s a tough time is part of the magic of the age.

6 thoughts on “The Loss of Confidence

  1. It’s so good to hear from you! I just finished my last year of homeschool with my daughter. Middle school age definitely has its unique challenges, and can be such a fast roller coaster. Wonderful today, scary curve, not so great, back up to wonderful before you can blink.

    Hope your summer is great!
    (formerly @ Rebel Homeschool)

  2. Nice to see you here again!

    My dh and I were just talking about this last night. I didn’t know about the study (and don’t subscribe to WSJ so can’t read the full article), but I feel better knowing it’s not just me. So thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. As I was saying to my hubby, if I know this is “normal” for a boy this age then I won’t worry so much. Sure, it’s still hard (we’re struggling with loss/lack of close friends at the moment because the 2 best friends both moved away recently), but at least I can feel a bit more confident that it’s not because we homeschool, or that I’ve dropped the ball with my parenting in spectacular fashion.

    We are planning on studying the Mayans in a couple of months. Do you have any books you particularly loved to recommend?

    1. Ooh, Mayans! For middle school, the best stuff we’ve found has been old Smithsonian and National Geographic articles. However, the book National Geographic Investigates: Ancient Maya was pretty good – geared toward upper elementary and middle school. And we had a book called Tikal by Elizabeth Mann that was also good, also meant for upper elementary. Also a neat tie in – Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest is a neat children’s book. There’s a lot more out there in fiction – The Well of Sacrifice is excellent and super detailed.

  3. I read that study and I feel that study. I have never felt confident as a teacher, but I felt OK as a mom. This year has been hard. My daughter is that sulky moody tween, but things have changed so much this year. It’s just hard. Also, I love your quotation, “sometimes you have to teach the child you have, not the child you want.” Awesome.

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