“Mrs. Guest, ma’am, would you be willing to lead our next Bible study for young mothers?”
The words nearly stuck in my throat as I approached the sweet lady sitting across from me. It was a beautiful morning as we sipped tea and nibbled sugar cookies, the peaks of the alpine mountain range looming over her house and the grassland beyond. I was a bit intimidated by what were, to the wife of an enlisted man, lavish and elegant surroundings. She was the post commander’s wife, dressed in a neatly pressed floral skirt and matching pumps, a sharp contrast to my jeans and t-shirt.
I waited for her response. Surely this older and well-respected woman would have sage advise for me and I couldn’t wait to learn all I could from her.
“Darlin’,” she answered in a gentle Texan drawl, “I don’t think I will be able to do that this time. You see, I am spendin’ the summer makin’ daisy chains in the grass with my children.”
“Daisy chains,” I thought, a bit bewildered. Mothering’s best moments, she assured me, took place under a sunny sky surrounded by wildflowers and with no pressing schedule to follow. I did not realize it then, but this dear woman was painting a relationship picture for me that I would one day need for homeschooling success.
I am continually amazed at the growing number of activities available for homeschooling families and often hear moms exclaim how exhausted they are at the end of a typical day. In the midst of sporting events, co-op classes, church commitments, music lessons, and a plethora of options for socialization, true relationship building between children and parents often gets put on the back burner. The result is that days, weeks, and even months can go by without any time left for real, organic conversation. And yet, all of the recent Barna research shows that moms and dads spending lots of quality, one-on-one time with their children is the single greatest factor in a child’s spiritual growth! How important it is for homeschooling families to recognize the value of the mentoring relationship we have with our children over everything else and make it a priority by not being too busy.
So, before you begin filling in those blank pages of your new lesson planner for this year, let me encourage you to consider these thoughts:
What are the areas of your life as a homeschooling family that are the most important to you? Brainstorm, making a list and narrowing it down to your top five priorities, placing the building of solid mentoring relationships at the center of your schedule! Remember these will look different for every family and may change from year to year and even season to season. Consider how the curriculum, programs, activities, and learning methods you now use either enhance or detract from your goals. Evaluate what percentage of your awake time is spent with your own children and don’t discount the fact that teenagers need nearly as much of your attention as your little ones do!
Begin to eliminate those things that are not beneficial or that take time away from accomplishing your five goals. Ask yourself if those goals can be better met at home rather than somewhere else and be honest. If, for example, your toddlers and preschoolers are spending hours in their car seats during the week as you transport older children from one activity to another, its time to reexamine your priorities. If you find yourself eating fast food several times each week, consider whether or not this is the healthy lifestyle you want in your home. Remember that life is short and life with our children at home is even shorter. Imagine yourself, 25 years from now, talking with your adult children who are raising your grandchildren. How can you spend your time today that will best prepare them for that task? Delete the rest!
Also say “no” to new things that won’t help you accomplish your goals for your family. Ask yourself which options are the best choices for you as they come along. Remember that every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else; be sure you are saying yes to things that matter. Don’t sign up for a single activity that will not help you accomplish one or more of your five goals.
Reject anything that is in opposition to your personal ideals. Don’t jump on any homeschooling lifestyle bandwagon without evaluating it according to your own beliefs and convictions. Just because another family embraces a certain belief or way of doing things doesn’t mean you must!
Purposefully make time for those things that are important. Never allow yourself to say “I don’t have time” if it is something that will help you attain your goal. For example, if you want to develop a new family habit, wrap that activity around something you do every single day. For years we tried to begin the day as a family with Bible reading and prayer but found it difficult to keep as a routine because of Clay’s work schedule. When we decided to include it as part of something we already regularly did together and incorporated it into our evening meal, we had immediate success!
Never underestimate the importance of having plenty of sleep, relaxation, and nutritious meals. Crankiness and disobedience can often be traced to failure in any or all of these areas. So can mom burn out! And aside from the health benefits, the time spent preparing and eating meals together can provide the opportunities needed for family members to sort through the issues of life and to do so out loud with trusted companions.
Do not succumb to the latest homeschooling fad just because it is popular! Remember that you can become a slave to many things, including your curriculum choices, unless you choose to use the material in ways that suit your own children. Many people measure the success of their school year by the number of pages completed in their textbooks or how well their children perform on a standardized test. The truth is that true education usually occurs when children are allowed to follow rabbit trails along the way, causing them to think critically and research more thoroughly. The common principle of spiral learning, that is, repeating basic information in textbooks, adding a little more each year as the grades progress, can bore and frustrate both students and teachers. By slowing down your journey through basic texts and allowing time for discussion and expanded research according to personal interests, your children will blossom.
Throw yourself into accomplishing those five goals. Read, study, and learn everything you possibly can about things related to your goals and see how it changes your life! If there is something you do not know how to do, learn alongside your children! Build a library of resources around your priorities and encourage your children to pour over them, adding books and DVD’s that are of high interest to them, too. Encourage them as they acquire new interests; study and pursue them together.
Remember that the eternal always trumps the temporal. This will be a continual battle as long as we are in this world but purposing to live each day with this belief at the core of your life will bring great contentment, satisfaction, and fruit, some you may not even live to experience.
Abigail Adams once said “Great learning and superior abilities, should you ever possess them, will be of little value and small estimation, unless virtue, honor, truth, and integrity are added to them,” and she determined to raise her children with these goals in mind. Together they melted the family’s heirloom silver to make bullets during the Revolutionary War and served many statesmen around their dining table, the children listening intently as the great thoughts of the day were birthed. She declared, “When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”
One morning as her children studied, Abigail heard the roar of cannon fire miles away in Boston. Instructing young John Quincy to close his books, she led him through the pasture to a spot high enough above Bunker Hill to safely watch the now famous battle. She showed him in real life the cost of patriotism. What an impression it left on the young man who would one day become the 6th president of the United States and a devoted Christian who was committed to justice and freedom! Though Abigail did not live to see all that her son would accomplish, we still enjoy the fruits of her labors today!
What are your five goals and how do you plan to achieve them this school year? And, most importantly, how will you make the mentoring of your children the cornerstone of family life?
(originally published in Home Educating Family Magazine, 2013)