When you hit a plateau, you don't always need to look for a way to hurry ahead to the next thing. Sometimes homeschooling is all about slowing down.
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.
This week I took my daughter to an appointment where we happened to run into a family from her old school. The mother was always someone I could chat to in the playground, but I haven’t seen her in a long time because my kids are no longer there. As she was leaving, she said, “Lisa, I’ve hardly spoken to you! And how aaaaarrrrrreee yoooooouuuu?” She said it in such a pitying sort of way, I realized that she assumed that the everyday life of a homeschooling mother must be a truly terrible and exhausting thing.
Homeschooling is an every day choice. If we wanted to, we could sign our children up for school tomorrow. But we don’t choose that. We actually CHOSE home education because, when you scrape away the arguments and irritations of daily family life, we LOVE it as a way of learning and as a lifestyle.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some drawbacks. Dealing with those takes a little more care and consideration. Prioritizing my own wellness has been one of our greatest challenges. A letter for a routine medical test came in the post and all I needed to do was make one phone call. But who makes phone calls when there’s home education to be done? It took me over a week to deal with that letter and make that appointment.
I’ve had a sore throat this week, and really wished I could have a duvet day, snuggled in bed with a good book. But I can’t do that either. I’ve tried, but eventually find that the needs of the family draw me back and demand attention.
Making time for wellness practices has been integral to maintaining a sense of groundedness and joy in our homeschool day. We homeschooling mothers can be experts at putting our own needs last. I have found that, when I put myself last, I feel last and that eventually turns into resentment. Instead, giving myself small but significant wellness breaks throughout the day makes a bigger overall difference than handing the kids over to my husband for a day and heading out on my own (although I wouldn’t say no to that, now and then).
My tiny wellness practices are simple but meaningful. Every morning I pour myself a big glass of water before the children and I sit down to read together. When they have screen time I make a point of ignoring the chores for a time. Instead I sit on the sofa and read my book for a while. Sometimes I go out to the garage and ride the exercise bike for a quarter of an hour. First thing in the morning I try to get up at least 15-30 minutes before my husband has to leave for work and practice some Yoga and meditation in my room (sometimes alone, sometimes with the other four members of my family milling around looking for socks). I add little inexpensive treats for myself to the shopping list: a chocolate bar, cut-price flowers, a new box of pencils (Yes: geek. Guilty as charged.). I spend three or four extra minutes in the shower when I’m doing nothing but enjoying it.
We all need to feel valued and nurtured. My children don’t necessarily know how to give me that, and to some extent it’s not really their role. As an adult I have to look after my own needs. It doesn’t have to be something time-consuming or expensive, just something for me. What do you do to nurture yourself? How do you prioritize a wellness practice amongst the busyness of homeschool life?
Finding the right rhythm for your family’s days can make homeschooling a much happier part of your life.
Recently I read the book, Living on Wilderness Time, by Melissa Walker. It is a memoir of a woman in her early fifties who was seeking a change in her life after years of working in a busy academic career and raising her children. Remembering her youthful days spent roaming the countryside at her parent’s home in south Georgia, she decided to be intentional about getting back into nature, and not only that, she wanted to learn about America’s designated wilderness areas.
Over the course of two years, she took a series of trips, driving through natural areas and camping in several different national parks—by herself. A couple of times during her travels, her husband joined her, and once a good friend, and she met all kinds of interesting people. There were occasions when she needed to spend the night in a hotel or at least in the back of her van, but usually she camped in a tent by herself.
I know I wouldn’t want to do that. Not only would I not feel safe, I’m simply not interested in camping alone. I do, however, understand the longing to be alone in nature. I totally get that. So I didn’t mind living vicariously through her as I read about her crash course in how to survive alone in the wild, and I also enjoyed learning about our designated wilderness areas and the challenges and controversies there are surrounding keeping a place “wild.”
But what I most enjoyed about the book was how she often described herself as entering “wilderness time” when she left home and got on the road. In other words, she didn’t have any deadlines. Though she occasionally made meetings with park rangers and other wilderness experts, she didn’t give herself much of an agenda. A wilderness ranger she volunteered with said, “Our work in there will take as long as it takes.”
Walker explains how her goal was to take this lesson learned in the wild and apply it to her life when she returned home. I couldn’t help but nod and think, “I want to live on wilderness time too.” Like Walker, I would like to spend my time wisely, working toward what is important and doing it well without worrying about how long it will take.
I realize I’m a very lucky person. I get to stay home with my kids, homeschool them, and pursue things that I am passionate about. Not everyone has that luxury. Despite this, I can get caught up in a race where I’m the only one racing-racing to finish whatever is on my to do list or whatever is foremost in my mind. Why in the world would I do that when there’s no one holding me accountable?
Yes, of course, I have obligations to my family and even myself. But not getting things done is not my problem. I can afford to stop racing. I can live on wilderness time right here in my own house.
And what a gift it will be to my children when I repeat that little mantra in my head—“wilderness time, wilderness time” – and say, “Our work will take as long as it takes.” If my son needs extra time in math, we’ll take the extra time. If he wants to build a complicated structure, we’ll work on it until it’s finished. If he’s undecided about how to complete it, I’ll let him take the time he needs to figure it out. And, of course, taking the time to stop what we’re doing and getting into nature is a big part of that.
I’m not worried about my kids trying to keep up with the “rat race” when they become adults. Everybody has a knack for falling into the rat race. What I want to accomplish right now is letting them practice working in wilderness time. Letting them know that there are actually very few things that need to be rushed. Letting them know that whether they hit the trails or stay at home, they can usually choose how to spend their time and using it wisely might make all the difference.
Back in the days when two of my three children were in school, I lamented the morning time, when we were rushed off our feet to get out the door on time. Packing lunches and bags, making sure school uniforms were clean (well, cleanish) and homework completed felt like a herculean task. I wasn’t really very good at it, and it made me feel incredibly stressed. Often, I ended up shouting at the children and the day started on the wrong foot. I’d wave them into school, then I’d squirm uncomfortably all day as I waited for them to come home so we could make up and start over.
It’s an unpleasant memory. I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore.
That said, sometimes I catch myself being that manic, stressed lady who wants to get out the door on time, but just can’t seem to get each of the planets into alignment. Turns out, school or not, I find it hard to get everyone dressed (and keep them dressed) (let’s not talk about the child who likes to take everything off minutes before we leave the house) and out the door. Turns out I overfill the day and we end up rushing from one thing to another. Turns out that even as a home educator I find myself shouting at the children because of the pressure to be somewhere.
Fortunately, we can start over a lot sooner. I don’t have to wait all day to say sorry, take a deep breath and just calm down, for pete’s sake.
When I’m doing that hare-brained thing I do when we’ve got swimming at 9.30 and violin at 11.10 then a meet-up with friends at noon, followed by clarinet at 4.30 and a run scheduled straight after, I have to stop for a moment and say, “Lisa, what on earth are you doing?” Kids are overscheduled, yes, but what about mothers? I’m overscheduled and I hate it! (Someone do a research study about us!)
So I take a deep breath and I step back and think about my priorities. I imagine what my ideal day would look like, and I think about what my children love doing most: cycling around nature reserves, going pond-dipping, reading books on the sofa, drawing, watching documentaries together. And I wonder why I’m doing any of that other stuff. I slow this tightrope walk down, circle my arms in the air for a bit, rock from side to side and attempt to regain balance. I want this to be enjoyable. I want it to be graceful. I want it to be fun.
I think we can easily achieve a consensus that rushing and getting stressed is not fun.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a yoga teacher. As such, I believe in the power of thoughts. My latest mantra (repeated words or phrase that shapes our thoughts and distracts us from unhelpful ones) is, “I have all the time I need.”
I have all the time I need.
Because I do, don’t I? We have time to read books on the sofa. We have time to cycle around nature reserves. We have time to draw. We have time to lie on our bellies and stare into ponds.
Sometimes it’s worth just taking a deep breath and reminding myself. I have all the time I need. And so do you. Let’s go stare into a pond together. I don’t mind if you’re not on time, because, really, I can’t guarantee that we will be.
On Tuesday I mentioned to a friend that I’d gone back to a new-to-me writers group on the previous night. She smiled broadly and said, “Congratulations!”
The word, “congratulations,” normally reserved for engagements, wedding anniversaries, promotions and the arrival of a new baby, might seem inappropriate in this situation. But you and I both know that I deserved that congratulations from my friend. She, a seasoned mother of five children and a fellow home educator, knows that it can take a military-style operation to get out of the house alone. She would also know that it takes a huge amount of bravery and derring-do to step outside one’s comfort zone and go into a new situation, especially when you half expect that there are toddler-snot trails on your shoulder and your most recent conversations center around the prize in a Kinder egg, rather than the latest literary prize.
The first time I went to the group, I changed into my pajamas, lay down with my youngest child (as usual) and waited for him to go to sleep. Then I got up, re-dressed into my jeans and fleece pullover, and drove across town to the group. If my son had known I was going, I doubt he would have gone to sleep. There would have been too many questions, tears about unmet expectations, and his need, ever-present need, for me.
The next morning we talked about it, and it turns out he’s okay with my going out to the group. The next Monday I gave him a kiss goodbye and walked out the door, and his dad lay down with him instead. That was the day I got caught in construction traffic, then drove round and round the patchwork of streets near the group’s venue, couldn’t find parking and after 45 minutes drove home. On the downside, I didn’t get to go to the group. On the upside, 45 minutes alone was rather a novelty.
(As an aside, did you know there are programs on the radio that are specifically aimed at adults? Yeah, crazy. Oddly, none of them feature “The Wheels on the Bus.”)
This week, I made it to the group, struck up a conversation with the person sitting beside me, and even shared something I wrote without running panic-stricken from the room. On reflection, I realize that I struggled to make eye contact with my fellow writers because for me, writing can be like a dirty little secret—something I do alone and rarely discuss with others. Talking about it somehow feels like uttering a profanity. It’s just not the done thing. Certainly not in mixed company.
I suspect that going to the group is going to be good for me, even if it does take a lot of organization and effort to get there. It’s stretching my skills and taking me out of my comfort zone. It helped me realize that maybe my son is ready to be left with his dad and have a change of routine now and again. It’s reminded me that I am an adult with many gifts and roles: mother and home educator being only two. And it’s reminded me what it’s like to be a learner again.
So when you congratulate me, I’ll say just smile and say, “thanks.” Because we both know there’s a lot more to it than just going to writers group.
For my debut entry at the home/school/life Magazine blog, I thought I’d write about one of those happy side-effects of thirteen (or so) years of unschooling three kids. I call this side-effect: Unschooled Mom Friends.
This past week, you see, I drove to a playdate… alone.
It was the same highway that has been host to hundreds of games of I Spy With My Little Eye and a maybe a dozen versions each of 20 questions, the alphabet game, and can-you-rhyme that once kept my children entertained for the hour-long ride to the at-least-once-weekly playdates with our eclectic mix of homeschool friends. It was the same highway, but without the backseat full of chatter and kid/DJ riding shotgun, customizing song selections to set the mood for the day.
Our Mom-gatherings started as Mom’s Night Out, an occasion to dine together without anyone having to worry about house or kitchen clean-up. For several years, we called our meetings Book Club. We were even studious, intentionally broadening our horizons by occasionally reading books.
Playdates evolved. The kids did what kids grow to do. They went from trampolines and skateboards to driving around in cars. Some got jobs, joined clubs, tried out school, got girlfriends/boyfriends, suffered broken hearts…
With kids in tow, and sometimes without, we moms continued to gather as schedules allowed. Where we once assured each other over late readers and screen time, we continued to assure each other over our children’s relationship developments and first apartments.
Get-togethers without the kids began as our way of helping each other remember that the job of being Mom, while big, was not all-encompassing. We still needed to make time for ourselves, once in a while, and in doing it together, we gained experiences and explored and socialized, much like our kids.
The kids who once filled our houses and backyards when we gathered, or wandered off on park trails for hours at a time, got busy with their own lives, and my Unschool Mom Friends and I… we made a conscious decision, at some point, to keep getting together regardless of kid schedules, because we still had so much to learn from one another.
New friends for myself was not a perk I expected when I started on this journey so many years ago, but it’s one I would encourage every mom who makes a commitment to homeschooling to look for. Make sure you take some time to make friends with parents who are embarking on similar journeys. They will make you stronger, over time. They will help lift you when you are down. They will give you words you need to hear when you are at a loss for comforting your child, your teen, your young adult.
Your kids will refer to you collectively as “The Moms” and you will appreciate having adults in the lives of your children who understand the kind of investment and choices you are making as a family.
Yes, you are doing this for your children, but you are growing in your own right, as well.
“Tell yourself that you and your children have all the time in the world to learn whatever you want.”