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.