Ponder: The Empty School
Do you ever wonder what it will be like to be DONE homeschooling? The question might have crossed my mind a couple of times over the last 15 or 16 years, but I never dwelt on it -- I didn't have time! My life was crammed with the "side-effects" of homeschooling -- musical instruments, field guides, insect pins, cookbooks, tools of every imaginable kind, shelves of wonderful children's fiction, trips to theatre rehearsals and music lessons, and occasional algebra problems. It was a lifestyle we loved, and we immersed ourselves in it with abandon. Now that we've closed our home school and we stand looking back over the collection of paraphernalia that remains from that wonderful period of our lives, I am convinced that the very hardest thing about homeschooling was stopping.
Nothing really prepared me for the empty house my husband and I returned to after we helped our youngest move into his dorm a month ago. I often said that he was gone so much his last few years at home that I didn't see how it could be much different once he left. But it IS different, very different... and I don't like it much yet.
I do not say this to intimidate those of you who are about to graduate your youngest child. In the course of getting to know some of our wonderful customers, I often detect a note of trepidation in the voices of moms who have devoted their lives to the education and rearing of their children and are wondering what it will be like to actually finish the job. It is a thing worth pondering here, especially since we have come to this place so recently ourselves.
People speak of the "empty nest syndrome." Well, our "nest" isn't empty -- there are still two of us here, along with frequent guests, and our children pop in once in a while-- but what seems so difficult is that our school is empty. The place of discovery doesn't have the same luster. Yes, it is true that my husband and I will keep learning new skills, and enjoying new books, new places, and new opportunities for the Lord to teach us. The lifestyle of learning that we imparted to our children belonged to us first, and we have not lost it. But unfortunately, the day-in and day-out FUN of learning with our children in the formative years of their lives is over. Done.
There is no doubt that as homeschoolers we feel separation from our children more intensely than many others do. And why NOT? When our daughter left home for Bible School a couple of years ago, I found myself wandering for weeks in a brain-fog that I just couldn't shake. One Sunday morning when I couldn't locate the attendance chart for my Sunday school class, a friend blurted out "What is the matter with you lately? You're just not your normal, organized self." It felt like I'd been punched in the stomach, and when I caught my breath, I sobbed "I feel like I've lost my best friend!" At that moment I realized that what I was dealing with was actually grief. My daughter and I are very close, and to have her suddenly absent from the day-to-day routines, to have her companionship taken away even though our friendship and relationship remained firm, was an undeniable loss. It was not a death by any stretch of the imagination, but it was most definitely a loss, and as such, brought a measure of grief. Once I recognized my emotions as grief, things began to get a little easier for me. The "fog" lifted; I could call it by name and that seemed to make a big difference.
These first few weeks of "empty nesting" have been difficult ones, and it is natural, I think, to respond to any kind of emotional discomfort by questioning how we might have done things differently. I thought about the fact that many large homeschooling families never really have an empty nest because grandchildren come along and join the fun before all the children are out of the home. What a blessing! And so I thought, "Perhaps if we had had more children...." Well, the Lord reminded me here to count my blessings and not compare them to others. The reality is that though we were not blessed with a large family, we were actually able to have two children (plus the one waiting for us in glory) despite many problems with child-bearing. My obstetrician considered TWO children to be a real miracle, and so do we! No, this empty nest is not "our fault" for not having enough children... it is simply where we find ourselves at this particular point in God's will for our lives.
I also toyed with the thought that we could have tried to convince our children to stay home longer, to go to a school nearby and live at home... but I knew THAT was futile thinking! There is no doubt in our minds that our children are both exactly where the Lord wants them -- it just doesn't happen to be very close to home. Is there anywhere a Christian parent would want their child to be MORE than in the center of God's will? Of course not!
Just as we are convinced that the Lord has our children exactly where he wants them, we can be assured that the same is true of us in our "empty school." The years of homeschooling have been a rich and varied adventure, and God has used them to shape the people we've become, to strengthen our marriage, and to refine some of our skills. I'm sure the same is true of you. Do we think that God has been doing these things in our lives so he can put us on the shelf? I doubt it. We've finished one large assignment of our lives as a married couple, but I'm pretty sure that the course will have other assignments!
Despite the changes, He does not change.
This verse we use for our graduates is applicable for us "empty-schoolers" as well: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord," plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
May God bless you and be your Hope!
Joan Thompson, Wisconsin
P.S. Joan writes later: "It's been 9 years since I wrote this article and as I look back, I'm amazed at how God has used and "grown" our children since that time, and how he has continued to bless our marriage and home!"
Joan's article is found on her website, which is linked with permission to our HSCF website: HomeschoolDiploma.com is a great place to browse for ideas and to purchase items for celebrating with your graduating homeschooler!