What's Next? Navigating the Final Years of Homeschooling
- Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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Ten or fifteen years ago, it was an anomaly to be acquainted with a homeschool graduate. The homeschoolers most of us knew were still of elementary age. Those rare families with students approaching high school age and continuing to homeschool were gazed upon in wonder and curiosity.
Then, in our small homeschooling communities, the first few graduations began to take place. One here, another there. It was interesting to see how different families held their graduation ceremonies. The first graduation ceremony our family attended took place in a garage. The parents presented their version of a diploma and talked about what a blessing and privilege it had been to raise and train their son. Soon after, graduations began to snowball until, before we knew it, we were attending as many graduation open houses for homeschoolers as we were for our other-schooled friends and family. Graduations began coming in all sizes, shapes, locations, and—literally—colors. Homeschool colors ranged from lilac to camouflage, celebrating each individual on his or her big day.
As one and then another homeschooler has reached that day when home education is declared “completed” (as if that ever really happens), we parents have begun to see the days quickly spiraling down toward the time when we will have only one or two, and eventually no one, left sitting around the kitchen table reading a classic aloud or trying to make puppets of famous presidents.
Like the Titanic, we suddenly sense that our glorious homeschooling ship is listing a little to the side, and like the band we play on, feeling a deep, sad inevitability about what is to come, but determined to play on until we go down with the ship.
How we play out the final years of our homeschooling experience, and what we do “after homeschooling,” are questions we can consider before those days arrive.
As the Final Years Approach
Parents who have a young adult closing in on graduation frequently share a common anxiety over what they should be doing to best redeem the time that remains, or how best to offer guidance for the future. For this I have two suggestions.
1. Remember first and foremost that your child’s future is in God’s embrace.
The best education you are capable of offering your children cannot ensure them success. They will face problems. Though we all know this, it’s hard to accept when we see our children being battered by the big, mean world. We wonder if we somehow could have prevented it. The reality is that all which will come to them is in God’s power to control, whether blessing and triumph or painful and refining fire. But whatever is in store, we are comforted by God’s promise, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The mere fact that God does indeed have plans for our children should calm our anxious hearts. We are not left on our own to wonder and worry and finagle our children’s futures. We can do more than figuratively throw our hands up in the air. We can lift them to our Father, holding our children before His throne and yielding their destinies to His will.
While that doesn’t mean we should sit by and aimlessly wait for life to happen to our kids, it does take the burden off our weak shoulders and places it on the much stronger, broader shoulders of our faithful heavenly Father and Friend. So the first thing to do is to take a deep breath and remember that we have only been lent our children by God for a season. He hasn’t forgotten whose children they really are, and He is willing to take responsibility for them.
2. Having yielded the outcome to God, we are now free to do what is reasonable to help our children set goals and make decisions.
However, we do not determine their goals or make their decisions for them.
Scheming, over-mothering antics may draw laughs on TV, but I am saddened whenever I see real people in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s who are still being coddled and cajoled by their mothers.
Once our children reach adulthood, it is not our responsibility to require that they put money into savings, to hound them about having regular checkups, or to pester them to have the oil changed in their automobiles. As teenagers we slowly hand them the reins of adult responsibilities such as these, and we allow them a stumble or two to help them learn the weightiness of life’s duties and choices.
Now is the time to make certain that our daughters can manage minor automobile care and that our boys can cook a few basic meals and clean the bathroom. Most homeschoolers have had plenty of opportunity to learn basic housekeeping skills over the years. Rest assured that every mother’s son will thank her when he moves into his first dorm or apartment and knows how to operate the washing machine at the laundromat, or when he understands what some of those cleaners in the cabinet are actually used for.
The final season of homeschooling should also be marked by helping your young adults focus their talents and skills on those areas they’d most like to use in their search for a job or career. Many will not know until a few years have passed what it is they really want to do with their lives. But by examining where their interests and talents lie, we can help our young adults discover their goals.
When my oldest son was a high school senior, he felt torn. Avid hunter that he was, and skilled with servicing his own firearms, he had always talked about becoming a gunsmith. On the other hand, he worked part-time at an avionics business, where the owner encouraged him to become a certified technician. As my son neared graduation, he moaned, “Mom, I just don’t know what to do.” Mom, being a typical female, answered (though trying not to be glib), “Well, son, as far as I can tell, whether it’s gunsmithing or avionics, it’s all working with little metal parts.”
It wasn’t exactly the sort of advice he was looking for, but in a way, it did help him make his decision. It led to a discussion of what opportunities each career choice represented. In the end he chose to attend a college of aviation and to use his love of hunting and handling firearms purely for pleasurable pursuits.
My youngest son, meanwhile, wants his passion for music and guitar performance to be the focus of his career choice. He will graduate soon, and we don’t yet know where his talent will lead precisely, but we are prayerfully waiting on God to show both him and us, trusting that as we walk the shadowy paths of indecision, He will light a candle to reveal the walkway for our son.
To help our son set his goals and make these heavy decisions, we have outlined as many options as we could conceive. Some of these include college (two-year, four-year, tech, or individualized school), working full-time and waiting, continued private lessons and self-study, apprenticeship through a local music studio, or pursuing another interest completely. During this time, we start the gradual shift from decision-making parents to confidantes, guidance counselors, and friends. We attempt to not overwhelm our son with our will, but to help him see his way to finding God’s. That’s a fragile process. We feel the need to treat it with care.
As your young adult establishes goals, it becomes necessary to align his academic pursuits with those goals. If college seems to be the best path, then you will likely spend a good deal of time studying for the ACTs or SATs during those final high school years. You will also want to spend time researching scholarship opportunities or visiting college campuses or virtual schools that interest you. You may investigate training through the military as another option. If your son or daughter intends to start his or her own business, then classes in business and accounting or an apprenticeship with a business owner might be in order. During our son’s senior high year, when he was trying to make that decision about attending an avionics school, we enrolled him in a basic electronics course to see whether his interest and aptitude would lead him toward such further pursuits.
If God is leading your student away from college and toward the work force upon graduation, then it would be wise to teach him or her how to write a glowing resume and to spend additional time practicing interviewing and communication skills. Help your children research types of work that interest them and find out what would be required to apply. Some jobs require testing almost as vigorous as taking a college entrance exam.
If your student simply cannot make a decision about those days after graduation, prayerfully consider offering the option of travel. A missions trip or a long stay with friends or family in another state or country might open up doors of opportunity and passion neither your children nor you have ever considered. Perhaps, as a family, you could go away to a quiet place for a weekend, just for the purpose of praying over the plan God has for your son or daughter.
Working a part-time job during the high school years can also help with decisions for the future. Labor, ranging from farm work and house painting to landscaping and babysitting, helped my teens improve both their work ethic and self-confidence. It also gave them ideas about what kinds of things they enjoyed or didn’t enjoy doing.
Ultimately, you don’t need to panic about the final homeschooling years. Unlike past days when our grandparents remained in the same career for life, people today change career paths often through their lives. An individual who may not wish to pursue higher education at age 18 might decide to do so with vigor at age 25. Goals change with individual growth, and God is in charge of that growth. The main thing is to help our children grow in their dependency on Him during their final homeschooling years
Life for Parents After Homeschooling
Even as we weigh all the issues of homeschooling our teens, in the recesses of our thoughts lies the realization that life will change dramatically for us when they graduate. We may mentally daydream of undisturbed hours with no demands on your time, or we may do the complete opposite and worry about feeling lost with too much time on our hands. But the fact is, being through homeschooling does not mean that our days have ceased to have value and meaning or that we no longer have a call on our lives.
We will always have the call of family on our hearts, but our ministries to them will be manifest in other ways. The lives of our children as adults offer an entirely new scope of possibilities.
I thought I was done helping my firstborn through school until she began bringing me her college term papers for help with proofreading and editing. My sister-in-law has homeschooled her children straight through. Now her two oldest attend college—online. With more and more people using the Internet to earn their degrees, the tendency to “homeschool” through college grows.
It’s likely too that before you know it, those grown children will be marrying and having children of their own. We as grandparents will have plenty of opportunities to impact their lives.
There will be other joys as well. The startling thing about having adult kids is seeing how they suddenly become nostalgic about “the good ol’ days.” They will come home to reminisce and help make hay or stack firewood. They will bring friends who will call you “Mom.” They will pull out their old school journals and photo albums and tell stories that will leave you laughing and shaking your head.
And even when they don’t return, and you notice how quiet your house is or what an abundance of bedroom and storage space it now has, God will continue to provide you with opportunities for acts of service. As long as we continue to realize that His call is still on our lives, He will provide us with ample opportunities for ministry to others that could involve many things, such as travel, expanding our talents, further teaching, and almost certainly, a time of renewal in our marriage relationships.
King Solomon was indeed wise when he reminded us that there is a time in life for every special thing. If we keep our focus on what God is leading us to do through each of them, we will know “what’s next” at every stage.
Naomi Musch and her husband Jeff have homeschooled for 15 years. They are the parents of two teen and three adult children. Naomi has a newsletter dedicated to the encouragement of homeschoolers which can be found at www.applesofgoldnews.com
Originally published in the May/Jun ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.
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