Anticipate the Empty Nest

The sand in my youngest’s daughter’s homeschool hourglass is swiftly running through the hole as she is busy preparing for her final year of homeschooling and I know that my years as a homeschool mom are fast coming to an end.  I pray that we will end it properly, for her, but more importantly, well for me.

Because she has studied independently for several years now, she freed me up to start to follow my own interests, hobbies and work while I am still available in the study with her while she works.

Steven Lambert wrote in Life After Homeschool on Five In A Row Facebook page,

These days are long, but the years are short. The homeschool years go by so quickly. Empty nesting is a challenge for EVERY mother. 

As each child leaves, they take with them their special and unique personalities and life in the home shifts and changes.   I hope that I will transition into my new season of child-free-home motherhood without the distress that I experienced when my older two daughters graduated and moved out and started their own lives.

When they both left home straight after their respective graduations, I recognized that much of my identity and purpose was wrapped up in my role as their homeschool mom and I floundered emotionally for a while.

But if I had paid attention, the shift into not being “needed” or “wanted” had started much earlier.  In episodes where my first teenager pushed away from me and my “help”, my idealistic motherhood ideals and expectations were shattered.  I  lost perspective and I cried before the Lord and eventually surrendered my ideals and began to trust Him for an upgrade in my relationship with my daughters.  I learnt to remain open and available in grace toward them.  I began to focus on their teenage loves, passions, interests and hobbies, and to champion and support them in their early entrepreneur endeavours. This subtle shift made it possible for my graduate daughters to move out into their independence without a huge wrench in my heart.  It felt right and natural, and I have always believed that to be a successful mother, I must work myself out of my job as a mom.

High school moms, may I encourage you to prepare your exit strategy as time and opportunities begin to present themselves in these final homeschool years.  Are there dreams you never took time to pursue? Did you love to paint? Sew? Write? Do you have a skill or passion? Take a class.  Share what you have learnt with others. Teach a class.  Mentor younger moms stuck deep in their trenches.  Be a Titus 2 woman.  Keep on learning, discovering, growing.

More importantly, work on your marriage and your relationship with your husband.  When I poured myself into my early years of homeschooling, I gave most of my energy to my young kids rather than into my marriage. My life pretty much revolved around my kids.  Now that the children are older and more independent, I started to rediscover and revitalize my relationship with my hubby and find renewed purpose and intimacy, especially as we both transition into the next phase and season of our lives.

It helps to shift one’s perspective, to anticipate the new open, free and quiet days as a wonderful blank canvas for new opportunities!  I may have an empty and quiet nest someday soon, but my days can be full of interests and activities that fulfil me and allow me to live out my gifting and passions in a new way.

My hope is the joy of ending well — to launch our last child into independent adulthood, freely— instead of mourning the stage of parenthood that is ending.  That is my prayer as I prepare my exit from my many years of homeschooling.

You can read another good article on having an exit strategy here.

Blessings to each of you in whatever transition you may find yourself, Nadene.

Homeschool Hopelessness

No one warned me that I would experience periods of real hopelessness in our homeschooling journey.

These feelings were not so much because of a child’s slowness in grasping phonics, or mastering multiplication tables or coping with writing and spelling (although those struggles are real and difficult to cope with at the time), but I suffered from a deeper, insidious anxiety of not measuring up to the ideals and images of what I imagined of my parenting and homeschooling.

My struggle was that my children did not reflect what I thought they would be if I “did it right”.

I had visions of my children happily homesteading, singing songs, crafting and learning like the girls in the “Little House on the Prairies“.  I thought we would all be praying, singing, being kind to others … that kind of Christian-thing. The gratitude, the persevering, the teachable, the compliant child-thing. And I thought it would all develop into young adult expressions of that image.  But our children did not embrace or demonstrate that vision.

Actually my children started out a lot like that, back in the beginning of our homeschooling journey, so it was not that we couldn’t do it.  It just didn’t carry on into my children’s teen years. That is when things changed.  They changed.  They took charge, and it was really scary for me!

My children are amazing, unique individuals, and they were way stronger than me. No matter how hard I persevered, persuaded, cajoled, pleaded, reasoned, lectured, they did things their way. They made choices and insisted and persisted.  I watched my dreams fade away.  And, looking back now, it was a good thing.  My children were not supposed to turn out the way I intended, but the way the Lord purposed.

They abandoned, subjects,  ignored Charlotte Mason’s methods, made decisions for the all “wrong” reasons (in my mind).  Instead of continuing with Charlotte Mason principles, my high school children opted for textbooks. Instead of narrations, they chose tedious workbook lessons and stressful exams. Instead of a rich cultural Fine Arts, they chose dry bones “compulsory” subjects. Instead of delight-directed – they opted for minimum requirements.  One child became the master-procrastinator!  She managed to complete everything by the skin of her teeth and it was a nightmare trying to work with her.

I sat watching each of them move further and further away from my ideals, and morph into “let’s get it done the easiest and fastest way possible” and I became sadder, more and more hopeless.  As each teenager entered into this phase, I lost perspective and became really sad and depressed.

Both my graduate daughters chose not to study further.  They did not want specific careers.  They opted for part-time work and entrepreneurial experience.  From the outside, it looked like my husband and I had “lost the plot” and we came under prolonged, severe criticism from both our parents close family.  I felt judged and a failure.   I wondered If I had instead sent them to public high schools and forced them to follow the norm of ‘Matric followed by university studies’, then we would have done it the “right way” and we would have “succeeded”.

As I sat praying, I realized that I had laid an excellent foundation in their primary school years.  We established outstanding basic skills.  I had instilled a love for reading, for good literature, for Fine Arts and we had a lifestyle of both productivity and creativity.  We have a deeply spiritual home where we share the reality of the Lord’s word and work in our lives.

All was not lost.

I turned my eyes to the Lord and trusted Him to work out those promises He gave us for each of our children.

After my eldest daughter got married earlier this year, she flourished as an amazing young woman who loves her husband.  She happily creates and keeps her home beautiful, and she cooks healthy, wonderful meals on a tiny budget.  She is a deeply committed member of a small, but tightly connected community and she and her hubby practice hospitality in ways that really bless others.

My 18-year-old graduate daughter currently works as a freelance graphic artist. She is developing her skills as a photographer and amazed us all by becoming a singer and musician, performing among the emerging musicians in the Garden Route.  There was no clue that she would choose to sing publicly.  She was so shy as a child that she wept and just couldn’t give me speeches or prepared reading, not even for me, all alone in our homeschool study.  And she never took a single formal music or singing lesson!

Last week, as I sat among a crowd of over 370 people at the Live Event in the George Botanical Gardens, and I just marveled at her courage and her talent, her vulnerability.  She shares her own songs with the world.  I didn’t see that coming!

May I encourage you, just as I encourage myself, to keep hoping and praying and trusting in the Lord for your children, especially when they take charge as they grow up.  He is faithful and He has a vision and purpose for each person.  He is able to “make all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes”.

Don’t allow periods of hopelessness and despair cause you to give up.  Have grace towards yourself for being out of your depth and have grace towards your children for working out who they are becoming.  It is Grace for grace.

 Blessings, Nadene
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Rifke ~ Best & Worst Homeschool Moments

Guest Post 4

Here is homeschool graduate and dear friend, Rifke’s forth post. Please pop over to read her previous guest posts ~ post 1post 2 and post 3 if you have just joined us.  This week she shares her best and worst homeschool moments.  

“When you are homeschooled, your education takes on the flavor of your family life. No two homeschooled adventures are quite the same, in either the best or the worst moments.

photo by Natan Grobler

photo by Natan Grobler

Definitely one of the hardest experiences for me, being homeschooled, was that little pit of terror that I sometimes fell into when I switched courses, or started a new grade, and found what appeared to be a great big gap in my schooling. What a wobbly an incident like that would give me! All kinds of horrible, rather melodramatic questions and suspicions would be raised – was I studying properly? Did I have memory problems? Was I simply not smart enough to understand my schoolwork?

My most stressful knowledge-gap episode happened when I was in early high school, and was supposed to switch from TCE to KONOS maths. The last TCE maths book that I had done was a Saxon book, and the way that it had taught agreed with my learning style, right down to how the problem questions were worded. Maths had never seemed so straightforward. From there, jumping into the ocean of Konos’ unique learning style… well, let’s just say I that adored the history, but the maths left me drowning. Luckily for my peace of mind, someone who knew the course informed us that KONOS maths can be difficult for anyone to understand if they haven’t been studying through the course from the beginning.

kitchen

photo by Natan Grobler

After this discovery, I had a stressful, shaky year of maths. I would try a book, only to discover that we didn’t have the answer book, or that the back of the book had the answers but not the steps for working them out. I also tried a book or two that was a grade ahead, in desperation. It was never long before I came across something vital that just didn’t make sense.

I prayed a lot about the situation. So did my mother, and in His time, God answered us. A friend provided us with a computer course in algebra. I could pick my grade, and my lessons; everything was clearly laid out and cheerful, with colorful cartoon pictures, verbal explanations, multiple choice answers and flash animations. It was exactly what I needed for a bridging course, and a previously undiscovered cog in my brain clicked into place. Afterwards I moved onto a Cambridge IGCSE maths book, and flourished in maths from that grade up.

Other dark moments in my homeschooling years were those when I felt eaten by worries over whether my schooling, and the books that I was choosing to learn from, would be sufficient in building up a knowledge base that could eventually carry me through my matric exams. I have to admit (and I am sorry, Lord!) that I stress very easily. And while I am sure that in most households these concerns lie at the parents’ door, my single-minded decision that I would school myself meant that I carried at least as much insecurity over these issues as my mother did. After all, I didn’t know very much, and hadn’t written even one exam. How could I be sure that what I was doing, and the decisions I was making, would equip me to pass matric?

I stressed way more than necessary over these questions. Not just because I did actually end up passing matric without working that hard for it, but also because, at the end of the day, passing matric isn’t even terribly important.

But the trying homeschooled episodes are so easy to overlook, weighed up against the gladness of the good moments.

I know it isn’t a very deep insight, but certainly some of the most delightful events, when one is homeschooled, are those days that one can just randomly take off from school. If something exciting is happening – if the bull is being slaughtered – if friends are coming for the day – if you are sick – even if it’s just raining and it’s such movie and pancakes weather – everything can be joyfully laid down, and picked up again tomorrow. Really, in situations like those, one can’t help gloating just a little over “normally” schooled friends. It is also very practical when one lives like we do, self-sufficiently, with physical work competing against schooling for our time.

Other wonderful moments that I can distinctly remember are those when the joy of learning suddenly struck me with awe. These were definitely encouraged by the fact that I had free rein to pick my own books, subjects and pace. Although a mom’s last words are needed to balance decisions out, there is nothing as freeing in a learning career as being able to cater for one’s own individual learning style. To me, it a way of showing deference to how unique God has created each individual to be.

photo by Natan Grobler

photo by Natan Grobler

I had so many interests and passions in high school, and I was free to explore them. KONOS history, for an example, was deeply satisfying. I couldn’t get enough of the creative studying methods and unusual activities. I also appreciated the fact that in high school I was allowed to exchange a book for another if the first one didn’t appeal to me, in the same way that I could pick up a book if it looked interesting, and work through it on school time. Information – all those fascinating nuggets about cells and the atomic makeup of physical substances, or all those brain-blowing marvels of the expanse of the universe – delighted me, and set my curiosity hungrily ablaze at the same time.

Good moments or bad moments, the wonderful thing about homeschooling is that it is, in essence, just a part of one’s life. The artificial standard of vulnerable young people spending  many hours away from home has been broken. Schooling and unique family life have been joined into one crazy, joyful experience of discovery.

What wonderful memories,Rifke. You can read more of Rifke’s life, thoughts and self-sufficiency knowledge on her blog ~Through the Window.

Blessings,

Rifke ~ Homeschool Experiences

Guest Post 2

Last week I introduced Rifke, a young married woman, a homeschool graduate and friend, who has asked me if she could write about her homeschooling experiences and perspectives.  This week she shares a fairly long, but utterly fascinating post on her homeschooling journey.  Will you join me with a good cup of tea or coffee and read her story … I promise that you will be encouraged!

“My parents have learned themselves, over the years, how to be educators. Their present stance on it has evolved from what it was when I was in grade one.

Photo by Natan Grobler

Photo by Natan Grobler

Un-schooling wasn’t really happening yet, back in the mid-nineties when they began with homeschooling – at least not in South Africa. Everyone that my mom knew who were homeschoolers seemed to want to make their children’s schooling as close to “normal” schooling as possible – in many cases, to help allay the fears of concerned family members, as well as some of their own.

My mom mostly adopted this mindset as well. She was pretty amazing, as she struggled, like almost everyone else does, with a shortage of confidence and a haunting sense of failure whenever a glitch cropped up, and she sometimes wished that she had had a formal teacher’s training. But she went ahead, turning a blind eye to sidelong, disapproving glances.

My parents started us on the Theocentric Christian Education course, which is a curriculum based in South Africa, but which gets almost all of its coursework from the United States. Although the content was thorough and excellent, the learning style was quite similar (as I remember it) to that found in “normal” schools. We did not write exams, but we followed the curriculum closely.

Although I know that there are many ways to reach the desired end in education, this start was beneficial to my older brother, younger sister and me. We lived in the city, and there wasn’t much that we could occupy our own time with. Dedicated academic schooling was the medium for developing us, keeping us busy, and teaching us to apply ourselves and use our minds.

My father also often took us with him to work – he was a plumber, carpenter, handyman and restorer of antique furniture. I can remember going with him and my older brother, when I was about six and my brother was about seven years old, to tile someone’s floor. We received payment for it, according to the amount of work that we had each been able to do.

Both of my parents encouraged us in creative activities outside of our curriculum. We wrote and drew prolifically, and went once a week to another homeschooling mom’s house with other children, where we had informal art lessons. My father taught my brother and me to play musical instruments and read music, and instigated a family choir. My mother encouraged our reading, largely through her own passion for literature. I remember both her and my dad reading out loud to us in engaging, animated tones of voice, setting our interest on fire. We loved books and stories.

Looking back, I can see that my parents monopolised our time, though we did not really know it. Whether it was housework, learning, reading or making things, we were almost always doing something. I did get bored, like any child, but my mind – a sponge, at that age – had plentiful opportunities for soaking useful information in.

Things changed when we moved to the Langkloof in the Eastern Cape, in the year 2000, when I was eight. My parents rented a non-operational farm, and my dad got hold of some animals and plants right away. We learned about caring for livestock, growing trees and planting vegetables. I started baking without the overseeing eye of my mother, who had just given birth to Joshua, making bread, cakes and biscuits. My father taught my sister, brother and I to use a sewing machine. We still continued our curriculum as we had always done, and practiced our music and sang, but our knowledge base outside of these things was expanding rapidly.

When my family moved onto its own small holding in 2002, there was an overwhelming load of work to be done. The house was decrepit, and there was no septic tank or running water. Orchards and vegetable gardens had to be started from scratch. We jumped in, starting work on multiple projects at one time. My early to mid teen years were and still are a blur to me, as we juggled trying to keep up with schooling and working on the farm. But the schooling regime for us older children – I now had five siblings – was changing.

Photo by Natan Grobler

Photo by Natan Grobler

When I was ten, around the time of our move to the small holding, I became aware of the difference between my learning style and my mother’s teaching style. Schooling sessions grew tense, and I eventually decided that I would take on the responsibility of teaching myself. It is kind of strange to remember how I would feel insulted, during my teenage years, if anyone inquired into how I was spending my weekday mornings. It was offensive to me that anyone could suspect that I wasn’t schooling myself as faithfully as a teacher.

As we progressed into the second year of high school, coursework was becoming hard to find. Previously, when my mom had been part of homeschooling circles in Cape Town, second-hand books had been easy to get hold of. But in the Langkloof, not so! And, as homeschooling parents will know, new books can be expensive. So we learned from bits and pieces here and there, anything that we could get hold of – computer courses, books belonging to my parents, a history encyclopedia. Once or twice someone gave us a whole grade’s worth of their children’s schoolbooks, but now doing school in this standard way somehow seemed less applicable…in fact, somewhat out of place. It was hard for my mom – she was choking in fears and feelings of failure. But together with my dad, she was reaching a crucial realization: book learning is a tiny portion of what education is about.

When I was around fifteen, my dad told us that we would all stop school for half a year, and do the work that needed to be done on the farm. From morning till night, six days a week, we built pillars, planted vegetables, tiled, stacked stone walls, laid foundations, painted, planted trees, cleared lands, put up fences, tiled some more. We worked pretty hard. I can’t say I relished it; some jobs were more fun than others, and, being female, I wasn’t as strong as my dad or brothers and would get quite physically tired. But I am glad, today, to have those skills. I am also more grateful than I can say to know what it means to work hard.

When we started school again after that half-year, my parents had changed their minds about how to school us. They had begun to feel that not every subject was necessary, and also that we needed to discover our preferred skills, our personal talents, our desires for the future.

Through all the rest of high school, up until I started matric, I never worked off a proper curriculum. English, Maths and Afrikaans my mother saw as essential, but if I was doing those I could do roughly whatever other subjects I was interested in. I mostly did around five or six subjects at a time.  I worked out of books that were roughly equivalent to the grade that I was supposed to be at, according to my age, though sometimes I would skip to a book a grade higher if I understood the content.

When my older brother, Jonan, had to start grade ten, friends of my parents offered to sponsor him to study that grade through Intec. I was studying the same grade at roughly the same time, but using different books. As Jonan was ending the grade, we heard that in a few years’ time, Intec would not provide matric anymore. The people who sponsored him in grade ten offered to sponsor both of us through an Intec matric, which was actually grades eleven and twelve combined into a year and a half. I had been doing his maths, so I was up to standard with that, and as for the rest, I chose subjects which I felt most comfortable with – the necessary English and Afrikaans, then agricultural science, physics and biology. Because I had been learning through every book of learning I could lay my hands on, I managed fine with picking up in grade twelve, even though I hadn’t been working off an organised curriculum since I was thirteen. Jonan and I continued to teach ourselves through this last grade. In order to have achieved higher marks in mathematics I would have needed help – I was doing it higher grade, and had no tutor, or anyone else, who could assist me with it – but I just scraped through, anyway. We wrote in a government school in Humansdorp.

My younger sister, Hannah, had quite a different high school experience from mine and Jonan’s. Once again, friends offered to sponsored her, but they wanted her to learn through the TCE (Theocentric Christian Education) course. TCE is very academic, compared to many other homeschooling courses, and to fulfill the course and get good marks requires a lot of time and input. Hannah is an arty, right-brained person…she does not enjoy studying! She got good marks, but she was also making wedding and matric farewell dresses on the sidelines, and she had already decided that she wanted to be a florist, dressmaker and wedding planner. She could learn this trade through my father’s sister, who is a professional in the same fields but floristry. She (my sister) had also spent a few weeks on a protea farm when she was fourteen, and knew how to cut and arrange flowers. She wrote exams for several years of high school, unlike my Jonan and me who only wrote for one, but she decided to finish with grade ten. My parents allowed this, because she is not what one might usually call the “academic” type, yet she is very industrious, brilliant at working with her hands, and was at that stage much further on the way to a successful future career than I was.

My parents strongly encouraged Jonan and me to write our matrics. Jonan is gifted musically, and my parents wanted him to have the opportunity to study further. They also felt that because he would one day be providing for a family, he needed to have all options open to him. He hasn’t shown a desire to go to university yet, though. With me, my parents also always felt that I should have a matric in order to have the choice to go to university available to me, as I love maths and the sciences, and showed an interest in microbiology and medicine. More than that, I just had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do with my life. I have never used my matric for anything yet, though. Instead of pursuing the sciences, I picked up skills in the arts, and now am beginning a freelancing career with my husband.

It is hard indeed to determine which academics or skills that I picked up during my schooling years have counted the most so far. Reading and writing have been essential; reading is the way I gain knowledge, and good writing skills are necessary for conducting oneself with success in the business world. Writing and creative thinking are also becoming an income supply. On the other hand, I have had very little formal training in the field of the visual arts… yet that looks like it will be my strongest income source in the future.

I suspect that the influence which the sciences had over me are harder to define. They stretched my mind, my logical capabilities, and my understanding of what I was able to do. I loved physics, biology and chemistry; if I had to do it again, and choose all my subjects with my present knowledge, I would definitely do the those, because I enjoyed them, and they both satisfied and sparked my curiosity over the world in general. A bit of knowledge in biology also helps if you’re living on a farm.

But I suspect that everything that I learned will really start coming into play when I am a mother, and I have to start schooling my own children. I want to be able to help them through both the simple and the difficult subjects..

It is presently the turn of my seventeen-year-old brother, Natan, and fifteen-year-old sister, Abigail, to forge their way through high school. They are studying through Alpha and Clonard, respectively. I don’t know whether they will end up writing their matrics, but my parents are making an effort to groom them in all areas, and encourage them in the things that they enjoy doing.

I guess if I have to sum it up, then high school in my family is a combination of prayer, and exploring one’s natural inclinations.

Prayer, because my family can’t always afford our schooling, so we ask God to provide, and He does.

Exploring, because my parents feel that although we have to know how to work hard and fend for ourselves, there is also something that each of us was made to do, and we will be happiest and most blessed doing that.

I guess they do not really see the point in preparing us for something we will never do. It is still true that one doesn’t always know what the future holds, and children may make all kinds of rash decisions about their future, if given the opportunity, in order to avoid their school load.

My parents observed us, and gave us opportunities to experiment. They tried to get to know us as individuals, so they could see how to tailor our schooling to our characters.

In my next guest post I will share on some of the differences that I have experienced between homeschooled kids and those who have gone to “normal” schools.”

Thank you for your insights and the beautiful way you share, Rifke.  I’m sure other moms, like myself will be inspired and encouraged by your experiences and your parent’s hard-won wisdom.  

You can read more of Rifke’s life, thoughts and self-sufficiency knowledge on her blog ~Through the Window.

Join us next week for another guest post.

Blessings,