As homeschoolers, we spend a huge chunk of time preparing our kids to be independent, competent people setting off on their own adventures. But what happens to us when our homeschool days are behind us? With a little forethought and some strategic dreaming, we can plan a next chapter for ourselves as exciting as the one we’re busy preparing for our offspring. Here’s how.
IT SHOULDN'T COME AS a shock, but often, it does: After years of learning at home with our kids, they’re ready to head off on their own to their next adventure, and we’re left not totally sure what to do with ourselves now that this all-encompassing period of life is finished.
Homeschooling defines our kids’ educational experience, but it also defines us and our sense of who we are. We spend a lot of time thinking about our child’s educational and social development, but the truth is that homeschooling changes us as much as it changes our kids. When we sign off on that last high school transcript and see our child off to college or work or whatever next step he’s chosen for his life, we are not the same people we were when we first Googled “benefits of homeschooling.”
“When we started homeschooling, I was this shy, anxious person with a degree in computer science,” says Laura*, whose son left for college in 2010 after a decade of homeschooling. “When we finished, I had started and organized three homeschool groups, ran a local homeschool blog, and discovered that I liked history a lot more than computer science.”
Laura, who went back to college for her M.A. at the same time her son started his sophomore year, now teaches history at a private school. “It’s my dream job, but I never would have known that if I hadn’t homeschooled,” she says. “I loved being a homeschool mom, but I love this new chapter of my life, too.”
Letting go of our lives as homeschool parents is a major transition, and it’s fine to mourn those halcyon days of readalouds and backyard science experiments. But the transition from homeschooling doesn’t have to mean losing yourself—in fact, as Laura and other graduated homeschool parents have discovered, your post-homeschool life can be about finding yourself again.
“For nearly two decades, homeschooling was all I thought about—all my goals were goals for my kids not for myself,” says Janet*, who sent the last of four always-homeschooled children off to college in 1999.
Deci, who started yoga classes when her youngest was in high school, went on to become a trained yoga instructor and now teaches yoga at her own studio. “I thought my life was over when my youngest moved out, but it was really just another beginning.”
TO MAKE THIS TRANSITION as graceful and gradual as possible, start laying the groundwork for your future adventures now. These simple exercises will help you point a path toward your future, whether you’re in your first weeks of kindergarten or prepping college applications.
Give yourself room to explore. Jump in now to join your kids in constructing salt-dough maps of the world or learning how to crochet or studying astronomy. You’ll never have a more welcoming environment for your intellectual curiosity than your homeschool days, so don’t miss the opportunity to flex your own learning muscles now. The happiest and most successful second-lifers are the ones who are willing to invest in their own skills and education—something that homeschool parents may be uniquely positioned to do, says Pamela Mitchell, a reinvention coach. If you’re not sure where to start, try a little bit of everything, and keep a journal to write down your emotional reactions to your efforts. Over time, you’ll start to recognize patterns that identify your interests.
Don’t be afraid to think small. A lot of people hang onto the idea that transitions don’t count unless they are dramatic, but you don’t have to backpack across Asia or become a YouTube celebrity to have a satisfying post-homeschool life. Something as simple as a part-time job at your favorite bookstore or signing up for a watercolor class can be a great first step toward redefining yourself, says life coach Marc Astwell. “Imagining a whole new life can feel really intimidating, but a new life is just a series of small steps,” he says. Your great new adventure can look a lot like your homeschool life did—just shift the focus to yourself and your interests rather than keeping your energies focused on your kids.
Keep a dream board. Whether it’s a real-life cork board or a private Pinterest board, start a collection of images, quotes, ideas, and other inspiration for your life after homeschool. Maybe you’ll find your board filling up with books you want to read or home improvement projects you want to try; maybe you’ll accumulate novel writing tips or travel destinations. Don’t be persnickety about what goes on your board—if something inspires you, add it to the mix. Later, you may want to look for patterns and cull your board to reflect your plans, but for now, let your mind run wild. You may discover that your board changes over time—that’s perfectly fine. You can remove items if they no longer speak to your interests, but treat this board like a visual brain dump where lots of different possibilities can exist together.
Be a quitter. Many people hang onto volunteer positions long after our passion for a project has faded into a sense of obligations, but this is a sure-fire way to close yourself off to other opportunities, says Mitchell. This doesn’t mean you have to drop volunteer projects that make your kids’ lives better (like coordinating the weekly park day they love even though it’s not your favorite thing on your to-do list), but it does mean that you should start thinking about transition plans for letting go of these projects as your kids outgrow them. “It’s tough because sometimes there’s no one to pick up your slack,” says Laura*, who was sad to see one of the homeschool groups she founded fold when she stepped away from her leadership role. “But at some point you have to drop the rope—and the earlier you start laying the groundwork for that, the fewer stresses and hurt feelings you’ll have to deal with.” Mitchell recommends making a list of your volunteer commitments every fall and circling the ones that you absolutely love. “Look for ways to cut back the time you spend on the ones that don’t feed your soul,” she says.
Look back. For many people, mid-life transformation isn’t as much about discovering a new passion as it is about rediscovering an old one. “Think about the things that you loved in childhood or adolescence, the ones that you put aside for a more practical career,” says Astwell. “For many people, those early passions are still the ones that make us come alive.” So if your garage is full of short stories you wrote before you decided to study accounting or you used to spend every spare minute in the woods behind yourself, a clue to your future passion may lie in your past. “I wanted to be an actress growing up, but I wasn’t a great actress, and my parents convinced me I’d be better off putting my acting skills to work in business,” says Gwen*, who homeschooled her two daughters for nine years. “When my youngest got involved in community theater in high school, so did I—and I still act and work behind the scenes for our local troupe all these years later.”
Give yourself permission to fall apart—for a little while. However you prepare, the actuality of life after homeschooling can hit you hard. You've been extreme parenting for years, using every ounce of your time and energy in a specific direction. To have that pulled away from you, even for the happy reason that your child is now your adult, can be emotionally wrenching, says Jett Parriss, an Oakland, Calif., therapist. You may suddenly notice lots of things you’ve been too busy to pay attention to: health problems, work dissatisfaction, life imbalances. It can be scary and overwhelming, so let yourself be scared and overwhelmed for a short time. In the long run, falling apart and putting yourself back together will serve you better than pretending you’ve got it all under control.
* We use first names only when we reprint articles on the website to protect the privacy of the people nice enough to share their stories with us.
This is a portion of an article originally published in the winter 2016 issue of home/school/life.