Saturday, August 31, 2013

Being Cool About School, a series: Our Story Part 2 {lessons I learned from letting a good thing go}

It all changed on an everyday Thursday in December. 

Perhaps you should consider taking homeschooling off your plate for now. You need space in your life.

My counselor and my husband looked at me with compassion that was both sure and gentle. It felt like a loving ambush.

Their faithful but fateful counsel pressed hard on my spirit and elicited a deluge of conflicting emotions and responses. Feeling resistance and relief, I thought of all the reasons this couldn't work and then prayed against all odds that somehow, it would. 

The kids aren't ready, I argued. I haven't prepared them for this. I don't have recent test scores to hand over. The school I want them to attend won't be an option mid-year. I've been homeschooling for nearly five years and can these kids of mine even hack it in real school?

Despite my doubts and protests, deep down I knew they were both right. 

I just needed permission to let a good thing go. 

Through a series of quick and miraculous events, my kids started at the public school of our choice just four days after that meeting. Instead of beginning in January, they began during one of the most fun weeks of the year: Christmas party week. The principal invited them to come early, make new friends, meet their teachers, and enjoy a festive week. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

Though I was open to my kids one day going to school, I assumed I'd spend the entire year prior to their "re-entry" getting them ready and getting myself ready. An entire year to fill in gaps, do the appropriate testing, etc. 

I had four days

And that was for the best. As it turned out, there was no reason for all of the stress and preparation. They handled the abrupt switch with greater courage and openness than I could have ever imagined. They taught me that I stressed too much and expected too little. During the early part of that journey, I took my cues from them and marveled at God's goodness to us all.

Don't get me wrong, it was not a walk in the park. The first weeks were emotional. I cried a lot. I slept a lot. I had to rearrange the furniture so that it didn't look like our homeschool. Curriculum and school supplies made we weepy so I had to march them to the attic. Tiny triggers of the everyday we experienced for almost five years seemed to be everywhere. 

At times the quiet was marvelous and at times the quiet was miserable. 

I think I felt equal parts grief and relief.

But I knew that the decision was good and right. I did. My husband especially knew that it was good and right. I don't know what we'd have done without the comfort and leadership he provided to all of us during the transition. 

Almost two years later, I still marvel at God's sweet goodness through it all. 

Every transition is not that seamless and our story certainly isn't everyone's report. I get that. And though the only story I can best tell is my own, perhaps we can set aside the specifics of this particular narrative and still uncover some key lessons learned through letting a good thing go. Hopefully these truths can encourage us all, wherever we are on the map. 

Lesson 1: Sometimes the best thing is not the best thing if it's just not realistic. 

A method or model or system, no matter how noble or ideal, is only as good as the ones {or "one" in my case} carrying it out. 

Homeschooling, as beautiful as it still is in my mind and in my memories for those four-and-a-half years, is not worth one's physical health, marriage, or sanity. 

Sometimes we have to put a stake in the ground and pin down the bare bones priorities. Everything else is negotiable. 

For me, it wasn't so much the carrying out of the homeschool responsibilities. My older kids were becoming fairly independent and relatively compliant learners. But we were with one another all the time. I was constantly overseeing something and being needed either directly or indirectly. My days hinged upon my productivity and the productivity of my student-children. 

While I think I could have managed all of that during a season of relative stability, the cumulative stress of the previous years {that had nothing to do with homeschooling} had begun to weigh heavily until I was edgy and breathless from the dangerous combination of baggage and busyness.

My counselor and my husband were wise. I needed space. Space to rest and time to heal.

Lesson 2: There is a difference between productivity and fruitfulness.

Sometimes stillness is the most fruitful thing a person can do. This notion rocked my world and I'd be lying if I said I had it all figured out. 

But I do know this. I had become a mommy martyr, determined to keep doing the "right thing" for my kids even if it killed me. Sending my kids to public school allowed all of us to get a bit of space while I came up for air.

God has granted tremendous physical and emotional healing over the last 20 months. I'm realizing that he's ushering me out of that season of rest and into a season that's bearing fruit because of those many months of rest and renewal.

Rest is now more of a discipline, a practice of margin and boundaries in my own life and in our family life rather than a raw and immediate need to lie down or do nothing. 

But for a year and a half, while my kids were getting an education in public school, I was getting an education in rest and recovery. As I said in that post, 

I have allowed myself to be brainwashed by the world of martyr moms {or so they seem}. Therefore, rest feels like I'm disobeying my culture; admitting that I actually rest feels like treachery. 
Self-care may look a bit different for each of us but when it's really a necessary and life-saving / family-saving endeavor, perhaps we should think of it as stewardship instead of selfishness... 
If you're hanging by a thread, if your margin is in the negative, if you're so exhausted and frazzled you can hardly see straight, don't look at others and determine how you measure up. Look at yourself and determine how you're holding up.        
Maybe you need to say no or pull back, resign or rethink.  
The world won't stop spinning on its axis but you may stop spinning on yours. What may feel selfish at first could actually breathe more life into yourself, your home, and the world you influence.

I would never know the beauty and importance of rest and my family would have a significantly lesser wife and mom if I hadn't let the good thing of homeschooling go. 

Lesson 3: "Many people can be their teacher, but only you can be their mother."

My husband coined those wise words and I'm here to tell you, they have talked me down off the ledge a time or ten. For me, for this season, letting others be their teacher has enabled me to be a better and truer mother. 

Lesson 4: Sometimes real life re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace.

I keep returning to that line I wrote a long time ago because it has been the significant theme of my life. Yes, it surely has. 

Twenty months later, I thank God for the unraveling that prompted the wise counsel on a December Thursday. 

I thank Him that I didn't have time to stress and prepare before I sent my kids to school. 

I thank Him that He worked it all out in a way that only He could have orchestrated because it confirms for all of us that this is His doing. We simply said yes.  

I thank Him for his crazy math: Mess + Hardship = Blessing. In this case, the "Blessing" is that my kids are exactly where they need to be, that we are all where we need to be. But here's the bonus: public school is where my kids want to be. Though they enjoyed homeschool and never asked to do anything else, they are at home in public school. At least for now.

I can look back and see all of that as failure. Or I can look up and receive it as grace. I choose to do the latter.

School has opened up a whole new world for all of us.

It's a place for learning, community, and difficult life lessons. 

It's a place for opportunity, success, and failure. 

It's a place for ministry, friendship, and growth. 

It is not the place I would have chosen at first but it is the place I now embrace, a place of grace. 

Lesson 5: Letting go is not failure. In fact, letting go may actually bring freedom.

Many parents choose to go from one way of doing school to another way of doing school without all of the angst I've written about here. I don't know why homeschooling had to be pried from my clenched fists before I could let it go. And I'm definitely not saying I should have let it go sooner. I'm glad for every day we experienced of living and learning together. 

All I can say is that when the time came to let it go, I'm glad I did. 

Letting go can take many forms:

  • Maybe your kids are in public school and one {or more} of them is simply not being served there in one way or another. Perhaps it is not a fruitful place for them; it may even be detrimental to their mind, body, or spirit. You want public school to work. You're committed to it. Just like my vision of a classical private school and then homeschool, public school may be your perfect vision for your kids. But it's not working. Do you need to let public schooling go?

  • Maybe your children are at a wonderful private school but you simply don't have the means to keep paying tuition. Or the commute has become all-consuming. Or it's no longer the great fit that it used to be. You don't want to pursue homeschool or public school. Your kids' current school is a beautiful part of your plan and you don't want to surrender to something lesser. Do you need to let private schooling go?

  • Maybe you're a bit like I was. You've crafted a beautiful image in your mind of what your homeschool life will look like and accomplish. But you're exhausted beyond measure. Or your marriage needs attention. Or a family crisis is taking much of your energy and attention away from homeschooling. Maybe homeschool is simply not a great environment and dynamic for one {or more} of your kids. Perhaps you're depressed. Or you need to go back to work. Do you need to let homeschooling go?

Letting go, whatever form it takes, is not like taking a magic pill and waking up to a life of rainbows and butterflies. I can't guarantee that letting go will make any or all of you healthier, happier, or more successful.  

In fact, just two nights ago I collapsed into bed and prayed against the creeping anxiety and questions. We're juggling more than we ever have and we're new at this. We're making difficult {and often unpopular} decisions. There are things I love about public school and things I loathe. And sometimes, when there's more to loathe than to love on a given day, fear and doubt can win the battle. 

By the way, this worked the same way when I homeschooled. One bad day or a string of hard days could cause me to question everything.

Even though we're no longer homeschooling, we're just as much in the trenches of parenthood as we've ever been; our days simply look different. Not "easier" different or "harder" different. But a "different" that, for our family, has ushered in more balance, overall health, personal responsibility, and new opportunity.

This series will not tell you what to do. I wouldn't ever want that responsibility. But this series will share the lessons I've learned on my crazy journey. If you find yourself somewhere in here, I'm glad. I long to be a voice of consolation and encouragement.

If you're rather settled on this whole issue of school, breathe a sigh of relief and thanksgiving. But perhaps there are areas in your life where you're striving for an ideal that you're not meant to have instead of embracing the real that is right in front of you. 

Friends, there can be peace and purpose in your imperfect life. Your own real life may be pointing to change and surrender. Are you open to this? It's scary, I know, but that which can at first feel like failure may in fact give way to a greater freedom and opportunity than you could possibly imagine. 


This is the third post in a series: 

Being Cool About School: 
Finding Grace & Freedom for Ourselves & Others in Our Educational Choices

{Whether We Teach Our Kids at Home, 
in School, or on the Moon}

You can read the earlier posts in the series here
Feel free to subscribe to the blog if you'd like to receive the rest of the series in your e-mail's inbox. You can do that in the right sidebar. And you may unsubscribe anytime you like. 


  1. Just reading this, Marian, is such an encouragement. Last week, I was planning to transition my 4th grader to public school, and homeschool my 1st grader. Then, a seat came open in the school for my 6 year old. So I'll be sending my girls to school this coming Tuesday, and I know it's going to be a tough, beautiful day. I'm looking forward to just being the mama, hoping the challenges are fewer than the blessings, that our life becomes more predictable and breathable, and leaning into the grace of God that will have to be enough... The kids' dad is deployed to Afghanistan through the end of the year. And I feel like, even in those extreme circumstances (that I forget are extreme because they're our "normal") that homeschooling has had to be pried from my hands as well. I tried every possible way to make it work....and it seems so silly and so about me and not their wellbeing... This comes after 2 years of homeschooling while going to graduate school. Even just typing that makes me feel like I'm a crazy person. I want my kids to have a rested, content mama who can bless her kids with her energy and joy, and I'm really hoping that our transition to public school gives me space to make that happen. Thanks for the candid, timely series.

  2. I've always said that "I have a love/hate relationship with home schooling. I love it because I am with my kids 100% of the time, and I hate it because I am with my kids 100% of the time." WIth God's permission we have gone through a couple transitions in home schooling; at one point I had to remove the teacher hat with my oldest and put him in traditional school. It wasn't the best for him academically or socially, but it was the best for us, and ultimately we both came to value that. I now have two high schoolers in traditional school, and a 6th grader home schooling. Traditional school has been an entirely different adventure. Discovering how okay we all are has been a relief and blessing. I'm going to chew on these words from your post-
    "Rest is now more of a discipline, a practice of margin and boundaries in my own life and in our family life rather than a raw and immediate need to lie down or do nothing."
    You just spoke some Truth and peace into an area I had struggled with. At one point I just needed rest, and God put me in a position where I had to. It was oh so hard though, but oh so good. I'm now on the other end of it.. waiting for what is to come.

  3. So good, Mama. "a place of grace." Yes.
    Your words here are a place of grace, too.

  4. Hi, Marian! It's Elizabeth Rodriguez from She of your peer critique partners. Finally came by to check-out your blog. So glad I did!


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