Much has been published about homeschooling: how to start, why to do it, how to do it, etc. But now that some of us have graduated our last child, not much is available to help us find our way in post-homeschool life. We are older than we were, but much too young to be put out to pasture. Where do we go from here, since our identities are no longer as homeschooling mothers?
I see the two main tasks facing us "mid-life moms" as 1) finding God’s new direction for our lives and applying our energies and talents toward it, and 2) learning to let go of the children we have invested our lives in. This is the first of two essays on these issues, addressed primarily to home-educating moms, although I think they are applicable as well to all stay-at-home moms. The second essay follows.
Christian bookstores are full of advice for women, and have been for years. Homeschooling moms get a double whammy, if we add in all the home education conference and publishing superstars. It’s easy to think that if we just follow what a particular author has to say, we can remove all guesswork from our lives and be godly women. But this is a false security. I have been through Anne Ortlund and her notebook. I have been through Bill Gothard and his Seven Basic Everythings. I have been through Mary Pride and her way home. And you know what? I still don’t know God’s plan for my life.
Several years ago I was asked what plans I had for when I finished homeschooling. My answer included something of having many interests to pursue and of desiring to remain "careerless" in order to be available to help and encourage younger women. But now I know that it isn’t as simple as ". . . teaching the younger women." What does that mean? Where does it happen? When? What does God’s general plan look like on me?
Our homeschool is empty now. I come to you, from the other side so to speak, not to whine, but to warn. Right now I feel that this is how I can help and encourage you. Please, full-time wives and moms, take some time to seriously think about the second half of your lives.
Most of us have chosen to remain at home, believing that was what God wanted us to do. Making homes, loving our husbands, training and nurturing our children have been our profession and our calling. We have endured condescension and criticism from many around us because we believed what we were doing was right.
But children grow up and life changes. I never thought I’d fall into the empty-nest syndrome. And I still don’t think that describes what I’ve been going through. Oh, that’s part of it, probably. It depends on how you define the term, I guess. But I did not prepare properly for this transition into the next phase of life.
Besides, there is something in me bursting to get out. Individuality. Talent. Creativity. How God made me. His gifts and his image. And I’m having trouble knowing what to do with it. God is in the process of guiding me into his way for me. But sometimes that something in me feels terminally stuck.
God has made us with incredible variety, just like the flowers and birds. Consequently, our lives will not look the same. I’m in the process of figuring out what mine will look like from now on. God is sovereign over my life; he knows all the details of my future. But it’s just unfolding to me. The paradox is that, given the above, he still holds me responsible for stewardship of what he has given me. That’s the puzzle. That’s what I can’t help but think could have been thought out and planned for a little better than I have done.
I guess I could tell you that it is foolishness to ignore your passions, your individuality, in the name of submission and service. Yes, yes, I know, "He who loses his life for my sake shall find it." But I don’t think these two concepts are contradictory. We are not homogenous lumps, and losing our lives for Christ’s sake does not mean we should pretend to be. We began as lumps, but of what varied composition? And God has been sculpting us since our beginning.
So how can we prepare for the transition to post-child-raising life? I certainly am not the answer-lady; to a large extent we each have to do it our own way. But I do have a couple of ideas:
1) You are using your minds strenuously now in homeschooling, and will increasingly as your children grow. Plan to keep it up. What are your favorite subjects? What topics would you like to explore? Go for it. Make a list and head to the library. Take notes. Take classes. Ask questions.
2) You are passionate about your family and homeschooling? Plan for future passions. You will still be involved with your children, but it will be oh, so different, requiring different energies and much less time. Don’t figure you will just relax and quilt (or crochet, or cross-stitch; you fill in the blank), unless that is your passion. I love to quilt, but it isn’t enough. What moves you? What expresses you? What do you feel you must do or you will go mad? Find a way to do it. Unless it is a sinful thing, God wants you to do it for some reason, if you are delighting in him.
I was at the point where these types of questions left me blank. That was very scary to me, as if I didn’t exist. But I’m learning to listen, to notice when something hits me, bam!, like a rift in time or an earthquake, or even when it’s only like a caught second or a nearly imperceptible tremor. And I’m learning to look to the past sometimes for clues to the future. What did I used to enjoy? What was I good at B.F. (before family)? That me is still part of the present me. I can give myself permission to pursue some of those things again.
We in the evangelical community say lots of things about submission’s not meaning a loss of individuality and about full-time home-making not being dull, unintelligent work. But how do we live it out? Frankly, one of my struggles since the end of my home-educating has been with feeling like a dull non-person wasting my intelligence. This is no one’s fault but my own, because I have not been using me to the fullest potential intended by God, by my parents, and by my dear husband (who says at this point in our life that he just wants me to be happy with myself).
How do we make our words true? Again, I don’t know entirely, but I have some clues:
1) Respect ourselves as redeemed creations of God. Through no effort or merit of our own, but through the great everything of and from God, we have great value. We have minds, talents, personality given by him. Set them free.
2) Realize that God gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight in him. This means that he gives us not the objects of our desires, but the very desires. These are things he wants us to do and says, "Go for it, with my blessing. I will use it. Trust me."
3) Remember that things will not always be as they are today. It may be hard to believe when you are telling the kids to pick up or stop fighting for the hundredth time, but you will some day be past this. Be thankful, be sad, be prudent for the future all at the same time.
4) You have something to offer the world besides your children. Gasp! Is this heresy? I don’t think so. We should consider whether we really want our daughters to have the idea that their only worth to God is through their future children. I think that is a harmful attitude. So begin now to ask God to show you what he is equipping you to give. He might show you in advance, and he might not. My mother says she never had "dreams" or long-term goals. She just did what presented itself. She has been a blessing to many people even if she hasn’t set out to make that her goal. But if your way doesn’t present itself, seek God for it.
5) If you are married, work to keep your marriage vital. The adage is true; your husband will be there when the children are gone. Stay in touch. Keep discovering each other. Play together. Don’t neglect your garden; cultivate it.
So this is the deal. Between God and me, I must live my life. Nobody else’s. Just the one he’s given me, as the person he’s made me. You must do the same. I don’t say this in defiance or pride, but as the way things must be to honor him and to preserve sanity. Authors like Bill Gothard and Mary Pride have some valuable things to teach us, but we mustn’t walk lockstep as their clones. Something tells me they probably don’t even want us to.
Hang onto your hats for the journey. (If you were buying a hat, what would it look like?)