“Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?” The question was originally posed to a group of teenagers at a Christian summer camp. When I heard the query, I was struck by how apropos it seemed for me, a mom preparing for another season of homeschooling.
A thermometer reports the surrounding temperature: it reports the state of a feverish child, a precisely cooked steak, or a too-hot-to-sleep beach cottage. A thermometer works by sensing the temperature of the space to be measured and reporting that temperature; it registers hot or cold in response to its environment. A thermometer is a reflection of its surroundings; it does not, itself, influence the environment. If you simply want to know an accurate temperature, a thermometer is the tool for you.
On the other hand, if you want to influence the temperature, you need a thermostat. A thermostat lets you control the temperature of a space: you can monitor the environment, assess whether the current state is pleasing/advantageous, and make changes—all by using the thermostat! A thermostat is more versatile than a thermometer; it is useful for redirecting as well as reflecting.
Sometimes, as homeschooling parents we are like thermometers, reflecting the “temperature” of our homes. We can revel in the excitement when phonics enables a young one to read his first word. We can be as enthusiastic as the budding scientist who “makes an explosion” for the first time. We can celebrate that correct translation, the reward for all that Latin vocabulary drilling. We can fan the flames of curiosity, keep finding raw materials for creativity, read “just one more” book. However, when our children are tired, cranky, slow to act, unmotivated, or resistant to hard work, we grow weary, irritable, sluggish, disheartened, and lazy. Have you ever noticed how quickly your cheery mood can be taken down by a surly teenager resistant to guidance? Or how your deliberate decision to be patience personified is derailed by a third grader refusing to embrace the multiplication tables? Being the thermometer is great when there are pleasant “temperatures” to be reflected, but not really helpful when things are offtrack.
Being the thermostat, on the other hand, can bring balance back into a home that is sliding out of the comfort zone. When we sense that attitudes or actions need adjustment, becoming the thermostat is the next step. We need to assess the situation, diagnose the cause of the problem, and change the temperature! At our house, we can set the thermostat, so that it will automatically respond to certain changes in the environment with certain actions: when the temperature gets above a certain degree, the air conditioning kicks on and stays on until the predetermined optimal temperature is restored. As moms and dads, we need to be the thermostats; we need to know the optimal conditions for living, loving, and schooling, and be proactive in maintaining that environment. Oftentimes, this requires us to make some decisions ahead of time about how we will deal with certain situations. And, it requires us to choose to direct the atmosphere of our homes, not just reflect what we see and hear. When life feels out of control, we are responsible for regaining peace.
We may have to make a conscious effort to be the thermostat instead of the thermometer, but our homes and our home schools will be the better for it!