"Doing the best you can with what you have" sounds like a disappointment; people who talk of "doing the best you can" imply that disappointment, a settling for secondhand wishes.
It doesn't have to be, though, does it? The first step is acceptance of reality: I live in certain circumstances, not others. I don't have to let visions of wishes stunt me, unable to use the resources I actually do have, stuck in unhelpful comparisons to others.
The second step is a clear-eyed questioning: What can I do with this?
If the comparison game is too strong a habit to break, you can always turn it around and ask: Well -- what do I have at my disposal that other people don't? What story are we telling with our lives, here?
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I think and write about this theme a lot with respect to homeschooling, because nobody plays the comparison game better (or worse, I suspect) than home educating parents do. It is sociable and frequently helpful to share our successes and our best ideas with each other, but the dark side of that is the unending list of Super Enriching Lessons And Experiences That We Are Not Giving Our Children. Add that to the felt pressure to somehow "make up" for the great yawning hole that the mainstream culture imagines we have scooped out of our children's weekdays between 7:30 am and 3:30 pm. It can get overwhelming.
But the answer to the Great Yawning Weekday Hole fallacy is the reminder that institutional education is just one way of life, not the only one or even the default; our days are filled, and the "hole" exists in minds. The closeness of siblings and parents is not an absence. The home and the wider community of libraries, shops, streets, and work is a real environment, not an artificially designed one: soil and sun and rain, not fluorescent lighting and bell-timed treatments.
There is no vacuum here. There is always something. Embrace the something you have.
I have an urban postage-stamp of a yard and no close access to parks or other green space; schoolday nature study, Charlotte Mason style, is not available to us. I have five children across a wide age-span; I have to say no to some young-child activities because of my older kids' needs, and to some activities for teens because I have younger children. I don't have room for a piano, and we've ruled out team sports because of the huge time commitment. Our co-schooling schedule means that 40% of community activities designed for homeschoolers (anything on Mondays or Thursdays) are already ruled out.
But notice! The things we don't have are all not there because of the things we do have instead. We live in a city, walking distance from the library, right on half a dozen bus lines. My children have siblings across a variety of ages, and each of them, in their own niche in the family, lives out a different experience of that sibling group. We didn't put in a music room because we put in a basement climbing gym, an attic space for playing board games and Wii, and a guest room so Grandma and Grandpa can stay with us and visit as much as they want. We don't do team sports, but we go to the gym as a family two or three days a week, for swimming, aikido, track running, and using the fitness machines. And co-schooling -- well, it may keep us from signing up for plenty of one-offs, but week in and week out it has set the rhythm of our lives, revolving around relationships that have grown and strengthened over years.
It's okay if you don't have these things. Undoubtedly you have something else, and that something else is a place where your family can thrive.
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Recently a neighbor, who has two small children, asked me via FB,
How are you feeling about living and raising kids in our neighborhood? Have you all decided to continue raising family here or is moving to a "family friendly" neighborhood something you all consider?
... We are financially in a spot where we could "move up" and are considering other neighborhoods. But we love our house and think we could better use our money for other things.... but we wonder if our kids would be "happier" kids in a different neighborhood.
I realize it's a deep personal decision... but we do get the family pressure of "when are you all moving to a better and safer neighborhood." The pressure to assume we deserve better. Whatever that is.
And I thought about that... and how it's not so much a "better," but simply a "different." We've made a point of trying to exploit the things that are great about where we live.
I wrote back (edited slightly to remove specific details):
I think that living in the city, kids "launch" into safe independent wandering a little bit later than they can in a suburb with no busy streets and homes on cul-de-sacs, but once they do launch there is quite a bit they can do -- it is a different sort of independent activity.
At 14, my oldest now takes the bus downtown to buy his own clothes, and to the mall to go to the movies alone; he and my 11yo took the bus into the next suburb over to go rollerskating recently.
(Since I have five kids I am eager to get them to the point where I don't have to drive them everywhere).
They walk half a mile to the main drag through our part of the city. There they can buy chai at a coffeeshop, or walk to the Y for their swimming and aikido lessons; we can send them to the hardware store and to the Mexican grocery. We are looking forward to when a new food co-op goes in even closer to our house.
As little kids, my children haven't been allowed to go to the playground and play by themselves, and there don't happen to be any neighborhood friends they can walk to and visit, and that is too bad; but there are things to do that are interesting for older kids and teens, things that kids in the suburbs can't always get to until they can drive.
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Now that my oldest is getting older, I feel that our neighborhood is starting to ... bloom? ... with possibilities for us. Yesterday the homeschooling co-op had a tour of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, led by our parish priest, who pointed out details in various pieces of sacred art in the permanent exhibits. It was for high school kids only. Rather than bundling everyone in the car to drive my high schooler there and then again to pick him up, I gave him bus fare and he went on his own, met up with the group, took his tour, and then schlepped back to the bus stop. He didn't even have to change buses, and his return trip was on the transfer from the outbound trip, so he saved one fare.
This is like a revelation. The same 14yo is just now, I think, comfortable watching his younger siblings (minus the baby) while his dad and I go out for a little while. Because we live where we do, we can walk to get a beer together (with the baby) on a weekday evening. We have the phone, the teen has the phone, and we're literally close enough that Mark could sprint home if there was a problem.
I admit I don't take the kids to the playground as much as I like; but yesterday afternoon Mark came home early (after a week of late nights and early mornings) so I went to the pool for a quick swim before dinner. "Can I go?" asked my four-year-old, so I took him with me and he went to the Y's child care for an hour and a half, running around and playing with other children and having a grand old time (he burst into tears when I showed up to take him home).
Most of my friends live in the suburbs, and they do have some nice things, like un-busy streets where their kids can ride their bikes, and lots of neighbors who also have kids of the same age (granted, occasionally that's not always wonderful), and big yards. We have some nice things too. You just don't always see those opportunities flower until kids are old enough to use them much.