I started writing this five months ago. Writing, as many of you can relate to, is a way for me to process and make sense of change. I order my inner world, and therefore my perception of the outer world, with writing. There have many changes in our family life since moving to Montreal, hence, a lot to write about and process.
The tsunami of a midlife crisis and the new shoreline that remains, in conjunction with the reality of raising/home schooling multiple teenagers, have pulled the rug out from under me in terms of writing with confidence.
It's hard for me to write with confidence as the landscape has shifted around me. My physical environment is different, my kids have grown significantly, I have grown.
What do I know about anything in this place of messy metamorphosis?
I am sure of my family's love for me, they are sure of my love for them (I think), and sometimes everything else is a muddle. And yet in the muddle, there are some things I know to be true, like finding sea glass on a beach of grey stone. Truth that sparkles, a shimmer of wisdom even. Not a lot, but some.
My experience is just that, mine. It's not universal but nor is it strictly personal, unique to our family only. I hear a resonance in the experience of other women, as their children grow and their mothering role changes.
I have met resistance at so many points in writing this. Not the least of which is the filter I painstakingly use when writing about my family. (Which I increasingly try to use in general.) Is this true? Is this helpful or necessary to share? Is this kind (to me, to others)? And, is this beautiful?
I've been stuck on the conclusion to this post but I can't write a tidy conclusion to what is essentially life-in-progress. And every finishing sentence or paragraph I write feels slightly false and even that millimeter of bullshit triggers the is this true? sensor, like the alarm of an emergency exit.
What I want to say at the very end is, "yep, we're doing life" but I find that lacking and not meeting the helpful/necessary criteria. Who cares?
This is the conclusion I want to write: in this life season I need to lean into the craziness that is homeschooling through high school. And yet, I can't say that without all kinds of caveats. I need to lean-in but also pull out, I need to be present and also gone, literally. (I like to leave the house somewhat regularly so we all appreciate each other once again, and I like it when everyone else leaves and the house is my own quiet space.)
My kids are not me. The way I want to live, as a middle-aged writerly person is different than the way they want to live as social teenagers. The amount of time I crave for writing, reading, thinking, drawing, meditating, thinking some more, journaling, sitting quiet and still makes me think I've crossed the Introvert/Extrovert line. Celine thinks that my need to verbalize my thinking process (chat, chat, chat) keeps me in the extrovert camp.
In the past few years I have cultivated practices of quiet and simplicity, reflection and self-awareness. Downsizing, living in the woods, hiking in the woods, spending a lot of time in and surrounded by nature I think helped foster this. But so did having a midlife crisis (partly brought on by hiking/living in the woods). The aftermath of which requires a fair deal of careful, kind, and honest self-examination.
Since moving I have to show up and engage, with more frequency than has been my reality for years, in a world, that moves a different speed than I do. I do this for my kids. This is jarring to me. And yet my extroverted self needs the meeting new people rush, needs to discuss the ideas I spend so much time ruminating about. Yet another paradox in which I'm looking for the goldilocks principle of "just right".
The reality of sharing life together with five unique people, three of them in the throes of hormones and questing towards independence, is not always smooth or without tension. And not because any of us are against each other but because our needs are different. We love each other and we're different.
That's my conclusion. And now for the post.
I strongly believe in recognizing, respecting and cultivating my children's unique interests and individuality. When the kids were little, the lion's share of each day was spent doing the labor of childcare and homemaking (cook, clean, train/love children, press repeat). This was hard work and I decided fairly early in my homemaking/mothering-young-children vocation that I wasn't going to spend my precious time, outside of what must be done, "enriching" the children's lives with classes and lessons and all manner of go-and-do that wasn't really interesting to me.
Within the constraints and realities of caring for young children and then later homeschooling those children, my way of doing things, my rules, my interests, my comforts tended to dominate our days.
I make no apology for this, nor do I see any problems with this parenting philosophy. In fact, I encourage other moms to do the same. Life with young children should be directed by the parents, with consideration of course for our kids, but someone has to be in charge. Someone has to steer the ship. In our family that someone was me.
I always believed, and still do, that the best thing I could do for our children's wellbeing and the longevity of our at-home learning and living relationship, aka: home education, was to do the things I loved; to operate in my strengths, pursue my interests and bring the joy those activities brought me into the mix of our days.
This was my aim, sometimes I missed the mark, but that was the goal.
Our kids' sense of wellbeing depended more on my wellbeing, and the security of our family life, than it did on their individual pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.
During, what I now call our Adventuring Years - the last four years of our family life - it was five of us at home, instead of the original four. The whole fam-damily, as I like to say, sharing living and learning space in small homes and bigger ones; living by rivers and the ocean, in mountains and woods; and having a grand family adventure on the Appalachian Trail.
The shift was subtle at first and then seemed to snowball. The TV shows we watched, video games played, music listened to, the homeschool curriculum, our schedule, etc.; slowly over the course of days, months, and years my interests played less of role in how we lived.
It was kids growing up, it was Damien at home, it was family life evolving. It was a natural progression, a necessary one.
Children don't have a choice as to how their parents raise them. For better or worse, they are stuck with who we are and how we do things. I don't think our kids have had it too bad but still, they didn't really have a choice.
When we came home from our hike last fall, Damien and I recognized that we had crossed a threshold, rounded a corner in our parenting journey.
It was time to shift course. Puberty hit our home, times three. Our children grew and outgrew. It was time for the opportunities, freedom and responsibilities that come with that growth.
So we moved to the city. Of course it's not quite so simple as all that, but at the core, it looks something like that.
(I've told this story, in some variation for a few months now on the blog. Sorry to re-iterate but I'm still in the adjustment period of that move, at the edge, marveling at how I've ended up here, and how our life took such an interesting turn.)
We are living in the "age" of Comic Con's and music concerts, public transit and going to festivals with friends. A homeschool co-op with science class, history and English Lit. Friday night youth rallies, summer youth conferences, and traffic on congested roadways. A big screen TV, a PS4, and church in a movie theatre. A Monday through Friday full learning schedule and Saturday morning sleep-ins. A change in our family routines and even a shift in our family culture.
We are in a different stage of family life, in large part because our children are in a different stage, but also because the hike was a catalyst to shift the tectonic plates of our family values. As these plates - outdoors, family togetherness, simple living, health, lifelong learning, and faith - have collided against each other there has been the formation of new mountain ranges, new expressions of who we are as a family. And at the subduction zones there have been some earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (Hello midlife crisis.)
Those places of collision and subduction, by their very definition, are zones of friction. And I don't necessarily mean friction between individuals, though that happens also, but friction between competing values and interests.
When the kids were toddlers and preschoolers the kindly old ladies at the grocery store, the library, and wherever else we visited, commented on how I had "my hand's full". And I did. My hands were busy - wiping bums, noses, and spills; feeding, loving, and correcting.
It was all hands on deck, all the time. Gradually my kids learned to wipe their own bums, cut their own apples, tie their own shoes and my days, my labors, expanded beyond childcare to personal interests and hobbies, most of which were extensions of my roles as mother and natural-living inspired homemaker.
And of course there was homeschooling. But my focus in that endeavor, in the early years, was on love of learning, love of home, love of family, love of nature. Homeschooling this way felt like an extension of parenting, and the "work" of it felt fairly easy and natural.
Our days were full but I chose activities - reading aloud, hanging laundry (we didn't even own a dryer), arts and crafts, baking bread, from-scratch cooking, gardening, weekly farm visits, nature walks - that required a deliberate slow-ness and attention to the season.
I built boundaries around our children, around our home, around our time; and I guarded the entrance.
I actively resisted a harried pace of life and a fast track to growing-up that I felt would undermine creativity, health, and relationship.
I would do it all again.
By no means was it halcyon. Then, like now, I had unrealistic expectations for myself. If I could do it again, I'd be more gracious with myself. (If I could do last week again, I'd be more gracious with myself.)
Parenting requires all hands (and head and heart) on deck through all the stages but in my experience parenting ages 8 through 12 provided a little lull in the intensity. Because we homeschooled and we didn't do individual extracurricular sports (our intention was to cultivate relationship and physical skills in the context of family activities, hiking together, etc.) our schedule was our own. Our pursuits built not just healthy bodies and appreciation of the natural world, but a strong family culture and identity.
Also, by this point, the core foundation was laid, which contributed somewhat to the "ease" of interaction in our days. I don't mean the days were easy but the values of trust, respect, unconditional love, obedience, responsibility, belonging, etc. had already been established during the pre-school years, and those values set the standard for how we treated each other, i.e.: the disciplining had mostly been done.
During this "golden age", the kids' physical independence from me and increased skills allowed for more "free-time" in my day. I wasn't needed quite so much. Hence, a season of writing projects, working-from-home, helping others homeschool, adventuring (and moving).
Our adventuring years, the four years on the Gaspe, was a period of family adventure and transitions. It was a time of experimenting in how we earn an income and how much space we need to live; what kind of resources and community we need as individuals, as a homeschooling family, as Christians.
We tried new ways of earning a livelihood, in online enterprises and outdoors-related pursuits. We experimented with new roles in our marriage, Damien contributed to the hands-on running of our home and I worked from home in online ventures - coaching and writing. We were adventuring on many levels.
Two of our kids passed the child/adolescent threshold during this period and it became increasingly apparent to us that their homeschooling through high school and young adult needs were not going to be met in our current living situation.
The post-hike breakdown opened the door for the "what is in the collective best interest?" discussions in which we decided to move to Montreal.
There have been some big changes in our move here. The tectonic plates of family life have shifted.
We don't hike every weekend, or even once a month. (Saturday morning sleep-ins, Sunday morning church). If you know our history, that's huge. Up until last fall, that was a cornerstone to our weekly schedule, part of our family identity.
We're once again committed to a church body. Practically speaking, we get together with other Christians, in large and intimate gatherings, multiple times a week to encourage each other and be discipled. This takes an investment of time and is a big change from the relative spiritual isolation we experienced for most of our years in the Gaspe.
We've returned to our pre-adventure years division of labor. There is no more "experimenting" with income-earning, we can't afford it.
Damien's technology work has the highest income-earning potential, so that is how we earn an income to support our family. And I don't mean to be crass, talking money, but the goal is to earn more, because raising teenagers is a resource-intense endeavor.
And then there's homeschooling through high school.
I used to down-play the work involved with homeschooling my kids. "That must be a lot of work," people would say. But I didn't think it was. Yes, it was work. Life is work. But I did it the way I wanted, according to our family values and my interests.
I homeschooled and parented as an extension of who I am. It honestly didn't seem that hard to me. Parenting, in general, was the work. Homeschooling, not so much.
Now, with three teenagers in the house, even though they are the ones that do the work of learning, more is demanded of me. Not by our children directly, per se ("mom this, mom that", though there's still plenty of that), but by the responsibility Damien and I bear as we steward our three kids through their final growing years: to provide, with the resources God has given us, for their intellectual, spiritual, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
We decided years ago to homeschool through high school. Some families take it "one year at a time, one kid at a time". We're a "homeschool all kids through high school unless we find a compelling reason not to" family. So far, there hasn't been a compelling reason not to. We've been able to meet our kids' needs without enrolling them in school. And since moving to Quebec, there is the added motivation to stay clear of the (often) homeschool-unfriendly school system.
Philosophically, we don't buy into a conveyer belt education model or curriculum for the masses, and that philosophy has not changed just because our kids are no longer adorable elementary students.
I'm not trying to be hoity-toity or an exclusionist, I believe all children should be free to grow and learn at their own rate, according to what is in their best interests, not that of a system. But the work I feel called to, at this stage of my life, is not to change the system but to raise and educate my own children according to those principles.
This long-term commitment to homeschooling allowed us a ton of freedom when the kids were little - "delays" in reading, "behind" in math, "it's a beautiful day let's play outside instead" - all of that was possible, without stress, when you're not tracking with "what your fourth grader needs to know", standards that honestly make me cringe. Who says? We set the pace for our family.
That was then and this is now. It's not a race, it never has been. We're not rushing to cross the "finish" line by a certain time, but the pace has absolutely picked up.
The very things I didn't do with my kids when they were little - weekly commitments, formal homeschool lessons, a homeschool co-op (assignments! homework! reports!) - are now the activities that structure our days and a week. We follow a schedule that is not entirely of my own making. Other people's expectations influence our time, influence our learning. (I know this is normal for a lot of people; for a nesting, micro-managing, relaxed-education, homeschool mom, it's a big shift.)
We take seriously our responsibility as parents to steward our kids through the high school years; to participate in building, joining, and connecting our kids to healthy teen culture, and to be a part of a strong community of likeminded families for our kids to find and make friendships and connections in their young adult years.
We want to help our kids be prepared for the next stage of their lives, post-homeschool. Their studies are their own, but guiding them through that labyrinth, is our job. It's my job.
You could say we've got our hands full.
Damien calls it the whoosh years because it seems so fast-paced and intense.
This age is not without compensation. Our kids don't need my presence 24/7 and they're big, they can do stuff. But their education and their emotional, spiritual, and physical health is my priority. Just like when they were little, it is their needs that largely drive my days, but in an entirely new context.
I'm no longer guarding the entrance, the way I once did. It's not the "keep out" time of raising children, it's "out and about".
In my experience, life with older children is more facilitated by parents than it is directed by them. I've always facilitated our kids' education, but now I feel like I facilitate a social schedule, I facilitate friendships, I facilitate group learning situations. I facilitate their participation in healthy teen culture.
We guide and mentor choices, but we try to let our kids make the choices, as much as possible.
However, because they are still not independent enough to bear the responsibility of all those choices (the driving that is required, for example), we parents do a lot of assisting in making ideas reality, assisting with the follow-through on those choices. That's our job.
Much like when they were babies, my desires, my needs, do not set the pace of our home life. My kids' values, their desires, their schedules influence my every day routine and schedule in ways I could not have conceived in the "I call the shots" stage of the preschool and elementary aged years. And I find this change from those "golden" middle years, when I set a pace that included more time for mom-directed activities that I enjoyed, to be challenging.
Have you ever spent significant time with teenagers? I love mine SO much, but it is not easy. They go through "stuff". Love and hormones and loss and hormones and project deadlines and hormones and stress and hormones, and the whole teenaged brain syndrome. In their transition to a young adult identity (on the way to adult independence) I feel them pushing against me and pushing against each other.
I am so thankful there are other people investing in my kids lives right now - youth leaders, teachers, family friends, church friends, grandparents - but we're still the the primary mentors and as a homeschool family we still spend most of our time together.
I've raised and educated these beautiful people (which means I am partly responsible for how this all shakes out), so I know them really well and yet, I have regular "who are you?" moments.
Heated sibling interactions, something that has not happened much in our home up till now (really), everyone's quirky wiring and personality traits, new struggles with selfishness and sin, it's a season of iron-sharpening-iron, and hot molten lava erupting at times. Tectonic plates I tell you.
I have a lot more physical freedom these days than I did when my children were babies and toddlers, no one is touching me all the time, physically needing me. But the level of emotional, spiritual and intellectual investment at this age rivals those early years in terms of intensity. Someone is crying, or near tears, almost every day. There are times, more than I care to admit, when I cannot believe I signed up willingly to do this gig - mothering, homeschooling, the entire works.
Sometimes I grumble. I cry. I complain. I get tired. I get exasperated. Ok, I get really exasperated.
I'm not a yeller, traffic aside, but I lose my cool for sure. I throw around really helpful advice like, "deal with it!" I swear more (internally mostly). I mourn the loss of my "middle-years" freedom. I am frustrated as I see my aspirations to be a professional blogger, a writer (of some sort) on-hold. I have resisted at times all that is being asked of me at this stage of parenting. I can easily lose perspective in the busyness of our weeks.
But now is not the time to bail, or moan, whine, or complain, (except a little).
I'm not done growing my people.
My kids need me to guide, encourage, chauffeur, listen, mentor, love, feed, hug, wipe tears through the end of adolescence and their homeschool education. This is my work.
I will never be done mothering, but I will reach a point where my child-raising will be done. I want to give all I have in these final years to know that I did my best. I need to flow with, not resist, the work set before me.
To co-opt a phrase from the corporate, career track women, now is the time to lean-in. And I haven't figured out entirely how to do this except by doing it, by showing up at the zones of friction, those boundaries and edges that rub against each other. Recognizing that we belong together and we love each other, even when it's hard.