The Personalist Project

I was recently struck by an article by Shawna Wingert called "Homeschooling like it's my job." 

But wait! Don't tune out if you don't homeschool! It's about much more than that. It applies to all kinds of callings and missions, shedding light on everyday time management and how to translate your pleasant intentions into actions--the kind that reverberate to the good of everyone around you, rather than remaining admirable resolutions that sit quarantined in your own head. Such stagnant ideas can make you feel so self-righteous that you overlook the fact that you're not acting on them. Or so frustrated at your failure to live up to them that you become even less effective "in real life."

The author's point is deceptively simple. Homeschoolers are often heard to proclaim, "It's not just a job--it's a lifestyle!" And of course that's true--just as it's true of raising children, or practicing your faith, or doing many worthwhile things.

But look what happens: once you identify your mission as something so important, so crucial, with so much riding on the results--you never give yourself permission to stop focusing on it and turn your attention to something else. You indulge in endless, futile attempts at multitasking, because whatever else you need to get done, you're trying to accomplish it while homeschooling (or childrearing, or saying prayers, or whatever your good intentions center around).

The author's solution isn't complicated: she started approaching homeschooling as if it were paid employment. She set herself regular start and stop times, invested in periodic "professional development," and ceased the practice of endlessly multitasking around it. 

And here's the personalist point: once you set such limits, you're more available to the people around you. You're no longer trying to fit them in around the margins of your life-or-death "mission." You're no longer sending the message that the sooner you're done with them, the sooner you can get back to what really matters to you.

Also, a misguided focus on your mission makes for a continual, haunting sense that you're never doing enough, never "off duty." Rightly understood, it's true: a mission is much more than a job of the time-clock-punching sort. Even so, it requires a structure, one that provides for other duties, genuine attention to persons, and also recreation, an authentic human need.

Such things have to be approached with some structure, some limits, something beyond continual, nerve-racking reflections to the effect that "this is so important that no amount of focus could be excessive!"

So did Wingert's homeschooling suffer from her new approach? Not at all. Her children gained a mother more at peace with herself and easier to live with, and she noticed them spontaneously indulging in educational activities while "off duty." Their formation didn't suffer--just the opposite. 

My attempts to put this approach into practice have been promising so far. What do you think?

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: War workers clock in at a British factory.

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