Educator Resources

Scatterbook Part 2: Look for What’s Working

One thing I noticed after some months of scatterbooking was a lot of my journaling was negative. Entry after entry was LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS THAT NEED TO BE FIXED IN MY LIFE! SOB! It was like writing my own personal Temple of Doom script, homeschool style.

Suburban mother treks the jungle of homeschooling, searching for the mystical Jewel of Pedagogy, only to encounter a troop of hangry adolescent monkeys and a tumbling snowball of first world problems! 

Oh, good grief. While it’s useful to recognize areas that need correcting, too much of my journal was focused on what was wrong in our homeschool or with me.

It was when I a read an article on couple relationships that I noticed this trend in my scatterbook. I’m always interested in research that points us towards what works and what doesn’t in human relationships, and while the article is focused on married couples, I think their findings apply to family relationships too.

The researchers studied what they called disaster couples, couples who devolved into dysfunction and/or divorce, and master couples, ones who continued to have loving & healthy relationships through the years. They found interesting key differences in behavior between the two, and I found one particular insight helpful…

Critical people missed 50% of the positive things their partner did and see negativity that isn’t there.

They missed half of the good things their spouse did. Half! On top of that, they apparently invented a heap of negativity too. Why?!

Disaster couples scan their environment for their partner’s mistakes and criticize them for it.

So they sort of developed a habit of looking for what was wrong.

Um, does that sound familiar? Ouch.

One of my fears in life is that I’ll turn into a hypercritical person. I couldn’t let that happen. I’d made a commitment to myself seven years ago when my father committed suicide that I wouldn’t be so critical, so what was going on with me?

Look, they say we’re neurologically programmed to scan our environment for danger – I guess it’s a survival instinct from our club-totin’, fire-stokin’ caveman days. This tendency to more easily see the negative is not necessarily a character flaw we should feel guilty over. So let’s not turn it into another reason to mentally berate ourselves. It’s a human tendency. BUT! We can still watch how much we feed that tendency and build other mental habits instead. If you were raised in a critical home environment like I was, it may be a stronger tendency and building a new mental habit will take more work. But it’s still doable and the research shows it’s doable.

On the other hand, master couples had a habit of mind of scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for.

Reading that article, even though it pertained to marriages, forced me to ask myself questions as a homeschooling mother. How much am I focused on finding the negative? Is it 50%? Why don’t I look more for what’s working? Is this a habit of mind, something you can change? According to the research, it is.

I realized I needed to change my habit of mind, so I began a new weekly practice in my scatterbook. At the end of the day on Fridays, I sit down with my book and evaluate WHAT WORKED THIS WEEK. I literally use that as a heading in my book. I make myself recognize what’s going well in our learning, the random acts of kindness/appreciation I saw from my boys, anything that was positive. I acknowledge it in writing.

I’m writing this a year after beginning this weekly practice, and many times it still feels hard to find the positive. It’s still doesn’t feel like I’ve turned this around and now have a shiny new habit of mind that naturally looks for the positive. I have this idea that one day it will take less effort on my part. And even though I wrote just three paragraphs above that we shouldn’t berate ourselves for a negative tendency, it sometimes feels like a fatal imprint I’ll never undo. I wonder if I’ll ever overcome this human tendency when combined with being raised in such a critical home.

Well, the research shows it isn’t a fixed trait. And that’s good news I need to remember.

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape.

Maybe certain life circumstances made it so that muscle isn’t as naturally strong for me or maybe it’s just how I was born. Either way there is something I can do about. That something is an intentional commitment to seeing the good things in my kids, in our day-to-day life of learning together. The fun trip to the coffee shop. The small breakthrough in algebra. The laughs over a game of Superfight. I may have a craptastic day here and there with my kids, but then I’ll remember how my boys open the front door when they hear me pull up in the driveway. They’re glad I’m back home.

It’s such a little thing, opening the door like that, and it would be easy to just not notice. But this practice forced me to notice the kindness in my day.

It’s made such a difference.

“It’s easy to make a grudge list and nurture it.” -Sylvia Boorstein

What if you make a happiness list and nurture it instead?




  • Sandra
    2 years ago

    Great post. I’m definitely in the habit of seeing the negative. So often people will compliment me on one of my kids and while I’m smiling and politely saying thank you I’m also thinking but what about…/you wouldn’t say that if you’d seen…etc, etc. You’re not alone in wanting to work to see the positives. Glad you are finding a system that’s helping.

  • agobelob
    1 year ago

    I dont even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!
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  • Mandy
    10 months ago

    Man, I needed to read this – all of it! Homeschool, spouse, my ability to grow my own positivity and kindness muscle. Thank you!

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  • Two years + two months to get back to my regular run time. (At the exact time of year it sucks to run in Atlanta.) Injuries, out of state move, steep hills, another move, another injury, strength training, PT that hurt like hell. But today I finally ran for 50 minutes with no pain. Everyone knock on wood for me.
  • Bookworm Party 2.0 is done! Glad I made the effort. One teen ate the other teen’s cookie. I headed off yet another teenage food war. Is there a Noble Peace Prize for that? (Squabbles over toys are a thing of the past, but now it’s food. 🤷🏻‍♀️)
Our 2019-20 book list is selected, which was the point. That and an excuse for a little fun.
  • Got a banner made for the bookworm party! I stumbled across a banner maker on clearance at Michaels today. Can’t wait to use it for our Poe Poetry Party in October too. And back to school. And Donut Day. Harry Potter’s birthday. Someone might need to lock up the banner maker.
  • Between a summer spent working full time, then an out of state move the same summer, another move the following summer, it’s been three summers since I’ve planned another bookworm party.
A big stack of books, mystery lines pulled from them, fun treats. Teens having a decision-making role in their own education.
That’s how I get my Type A game on. I invest in having fun, not dictating the book list.
Why do I do this? Put my time and energy into something like this for high schoolers?
Because time is short but memories are long.
Because love feels like someone thinking of you, of planning happy surprises for you.
Because home should be a place where fun happens.
Because books are worth it, damn it.
  • Cooking with my baby tonight. By his request! Makes my mama ❤️ sing.  Plus I get to play sous chef instead of head chef. (Dad gets to play dish washer. Sucker!) I love America’s Test Kitchen and I picked up their young chefs cookbook for summer fun. So far none of the recipes have disappointed.
  • You get to be who you are. Work with your nature, not against it. It’s possible to be a structured person but keep your relationship with your kids first. And that’s the key - relationship first, not the lesson plan. {link in profile}
  • Sitting beside him while he wrestles with geometry - it’s one of my favorite things. To hear and witness his mathematical thinking, to slip in with help when he needs it, it’s such a privilege to share this journey with him. I even love that his mathematical thinking is now faster than mine. Youth! It’s amazing!#homeschoolhighschool
  • When your husband is on a business trip and texts you about his work accomplishments, this is what you texted back. Suuuuure, the client was impressed, but can you squirt yourself in the eye with a garlic press?
This homeschooling gig, man. It doesn’t come with much outside recognition for your hard work or a job well done. Mostly I’m fine with it. But some days...

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