What I Didn’t Expect Homeschooling Teens


When I first began this homeschooling journey, I was amazed how many people would ask, “Do you plan to homeschool the entire way? Through high school?” There always seemed to be an emphasis on that last part with a little bit of judgement in the mix, implying this is all nice while your kids are young, but do you really think you can handle high school? Will your kids be socialized? Will they be able to get into university? Will they want to be at home with you instead of with friends? What about prom? What about team sports?  See how much can be heard in just a simple question? Who knew. Most of the time I just smiled and shrugged.

Some days––especially in those first few years juggling new babies and toddlers in the mix––I didn’t know if I would homeschool next week let alone in another decade. Maybe I seemed too confident, too certain of my path. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to say. But I’ll let you in on a secret––more of this journey has been about listening and observing the needs in our home, and adapting as we go. For the most part, I have not taught our children based on what I know. Instead, I have become a student with them, learning so many things right alongside them, chucking some plans, gathering others. I’ve learned that just as my kids need space to breathe outdoors. So do I. Just as their minds begin to feel flooded with too many ideas at once, so does mine. If I am excited about something we are reading, generally, so are they. Homeschooling has created empathy and discipline in all of us, although none of it in the way I expected. I thought it would be tidier, more organized and straight-forward somehow. Sigh.

Fast-forward a decade and we’re here. In just a few weeks, Liam will be wrapping up his first homeschool year of high school, and Burke his first homeschool year of middle school. They have both been in a local Challenge class through Classical Conversations, a one day/week program for discussion and tutoring in six different seminars they work through the other 3-4 days at home. Liam is finishing Challenge 1 and Burke is finishing Challenge A. The year has been a joy for them both, and difficult for me in all the ways I didn’t anticipate. I have no idea what I fully expected, but in our conversations last Summer, we primarily focused on the subjects and thoughts that would fill transcripts and personal essays on college applications. I looked forward to connecting with them in more dynamic, rich ways. We discussed ways they would carrying more ownership and responsibility in their education. My lens was shifting toward their individual gifts and how Mark and I might help them grow into them. In so many ways, each of those things are happening, and as a parent, it’s both beautiful and affirming to watch each child unfurl.

Still, last fall was painfully difficult for me emotionally, although I couldn’t quite articulate why. I kept trying to find our rhythm, our groove for the new year. Instead, I felt like a spinning top. The days and the rhythm within them felt so foreign somehow. In addition to the Challenge program, Liam was playing on a traveling basketball team; the girls were taking a weekly art class; Burke was newly (and happily) carving out his own days academically. I was grieving. It seems overly sensitive and a bit ridiculous to write it out, but I was grieving! The landscape of our life was evolving, and I felt a bit lost. In the little years of mothering, so much time is spent corralling. We connect with our children in such pragmatic ways by taking care of their needs, by holding them, by including them in our work at home, by leading them in new skills. What should seem obvious is how that changes. Didn’t I want my children to take initiative and ownership in their education? Absolutely.

In Kim John Payne’s book The Soul of Discipline, he describes the transitioning parent roles of Governor, Gardener, and Guide over the course of parenthood. It was one of the more helpful parenting books I read last year, considering I am in all three stages currently. What the book offered me was language for my evolving role, not just as a mother, but as a homeschooling mother, too. I realized my educational role with my boys is quickly moving toward being their Guide, allowing them to take ownership and lead their own path with me alongside them asking probing questions, checking in on them, rather than simply directing them. Again, this may seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet after years of homeschooling together, I didn’t expect the loss I would feel when that changed. I should also clarify that just because I feel a sense of grief over a season of their childhood that is passing, that it is the wrong move. These guys are thriving.

As for beginning this current semester, I have felt calmer and more emotionally prepared. I pulled the girls out of art this semester to help simplify our family routine for the time, to enjoy more quality time with them at home and less time in the car. The boys still happily plop down with me and the girls at times when I’m reading aloud or when we’re talking about something they’ve read before or a topic they want to be apart of, and they share their presentations and work with us. I suppose these are the perks of living in small-ish spaces together. We’re always still aware of what the other is doing.

I realize there are hundreds of options and opportunities now for students wanting to homeschool during the upper school years, and we have chosen only one. It has been a humbling reminder that even now in the quite familiar journey of motherhood and homeschooling, I am still learning.

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  1. You have verbalized my feelings beautifully. Our boys are in CC for the first time, in challenge A. It’s been chaotic and overwhelming for all of us. Going into our 4th week and just beginning to believe we can do this together. I attend class with them, and I am learning with them. They are my third life transition from full time mom to empty nest. I have a son 45, one 35, and now two who are 13 and 14. Sometimes I wonder if I can survive another run through teen angst and puberty. At age 65 I have endured many different and difficult transitions. I have seen God’s hand in all of it. He gives us strength to persevere and we gain some new wisdom in the process. I did not homeschool my first two sons. I wish I had. The relationship we have with our last two sons is deeper, richer, and full of love. And I feel blessed indeed. Thank you for expressing these sentiments so beautifully!

  2. Hi Bethany,
    What age did your boys become involved in Classical Conversations? Will your girls be in CC? I don’t know much about it but was invited to join a group and it does seem appealing as my kids get older, yet also overwhelming looking at it as an outsider. Thanks for posting about this.

    1. Author

      We actually helped start a local campus here when we first began homeschooling and were apart of that community for five years. I burned out tutoring, trying to do too many things, and accommodating all the changes happening in our family at the time. We stepped away for a few years, and when my oldest turned 13, he asked if he could join Challenge A (7th grade equivalent). He went. This is his third year in Challenge, and my second son wanted to go. And then my daughter next year, which only leaves my youngest, so we’re all going back next year! Haha! And they are all so excited! But as for the Challenge years, each of my older ones will have entered at Challenge A (age 12/13). It is a drop-off program at that age, which felt like a nice shift in our homeschool, giving them a little space and independence just as they’ve needed it. As for the overwhelming part,it will vary by home and student, but I encourage you to keep open communication with your tutor and adjust as needed for your own home. Everything is adaptable! Feel free to email with any other questions.

  3. I completely understand everything you expressed… I went through very similar emotions (and still do at times) when my oldest graduated & was in college & my next two were in high school… my solution for now is a nice long morning Collective time all together to keep us connected… thank you for this ♥️

    1. Author

      Yes! It’s beautiful how our needs transition. I love finding time for us to enjoy a simple thing together, even as that thing and block of time changes. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Your heart! I always feel the intensity of the Shepherd’s joy in you, dear lady!

  5. Thank you Bethany … I really appreciate this post. It is so helpful to read about children as they get older as I find a lot written about children in their early years of schooling but as my eldest approaches his high-schooling years it is particularly refreshing and helpful to read about challenges and delights as they get older. Best wishes for the term ahead! It sounds as though it will be one of delight for you all.

  6. Such hope for our just around the corner future, I’m sure. Thank you for forerunning so many areas in life, that we come after might reap the wisdom.

  7. We’re still in the toddlers and babies stage with just one elementary age child, but I think a lot about the future, both longing for the day they’re more independent and dreading it… reading you words is always such a blessing to me, thank you.

  8. Bethany, your posts always resonate with my heart and mind. I have all littles right now (8, 6, 4, and 1) but I have been feeling unglued by the emotions of my baby turning one!! The juggle of babyhood and meeting the needs of a quickly maturing little boy, my eldest, have set me in a place of discomfort and stretching. I’m wondering if the emotional loss/ feeling of confusion could be similar…the transition of our family’s focus from preschool to school age or even the task of managing both well which feels like far more than I can do in my own strength!

    I had not considered that this emotional discomfort may be normal! I have been feeling like there is something wrong with me even though my family is happy and flourishing…maybe it is just growing pains for me as the mother!

    1. Author

      Yes! Mothers discuss baby fever or missing younger years, but very rarely if ever have I heard mothers share of grief in transition, the emotional conflict in change. I KNOW it’s going to happen, and yet sometimes I’m surprised that some things truly are for just a season. The good, with the bad. It’s training me again to enjoy today, to root myself into the day and enjoy it. Sending love and grace in all your changes. X

  9. I loved this! I will certainly be referring again next year as it is a big transition year for us. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience!

    1. Author

      Of course! I’m so glad you resonate, Stephanie. Best to you in your own home’s evolution. x

  10. You have beautifully articulated exactly what I have been feeling as my girls finish middle school and enter the HS years. I too, remember the question while they were little! I love the quote about Governor, Gardener, and Guide. This blog post has really helped me! Thank you for sharing it- I feel like I could’ve written it- it’s like you’re reading my mind!

    1. Author

      It was so liberating to realize all of this emotion had purpose! I was feeling a tad unglued, like something was wrong with me. It has been so relieving and peaceful to recognize this stage for what it is: transition. Receiving and releasing my children as they grow has been so good. I’m grateful you found your voice here, too.

  11. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Beautifully written x

  12. One of the most important things to write. Thank you! I have loved your journey and treasure this honesty. We are all still learning.

    1. Author

      We are, aren’t we? I have to remind myself somedays. For all the familiarity, everyday is new is a very practical sense. The path is humbling and beautiful.

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