For homeschooling parents, happiness feels like the lowest level of ambition. When other parents would say “I only want my kids to be happy,” we’d scoff. We wanted our kids to be virtuous, to make a difference, to be leaders in their generation.
But we parents have very little control—over our own lives, let alone the lives of our kids. The struggle to become an adult means entering a world of complexity and ambiguity, no matter how much we want to protect our kids from it.
In today’s Brave Writer podcast, I’m going to share a story of when I came to realize that, hey, this happiness thing may not be so bad.
A moment comes for all parents. The cold ring of the phone too late at night that means something. A car crash, drunk driving, the police. Some moments paralyze: childhood cancer, learning disabilities, mental illness. Others overthrow hopes and dreams: “I’m pregnant,” “I just got kicked out of college,” “I’m struggling with an addiction.”
I didn’t want any of these moments. Neither did my group. We’re homeschoolers. We hope to
control shape our kids’ values enough to keep our Xanax consumption to a minimum.
My group, the ever-resourceful, energetic crowd who orchestrates Medieval feasts (complete with costumes for the whole family), who’ve read thousands of pages aloud to little kids while nursing babies, who bake bread from scratch, use pies to teach fractions, cook an extra meal for the friend who is sick, who study history late at night to stay ahead of their kids the next day…. this group has strong ideals of family and how it all ought to look by the time their young ones turn twenty.
I love these mothers. We’re all neurotic and nutty in similar ways. We obsess over things like completing math problems. After all, no self-respecting home-educated child is allowed to give a wrong answer. At home, all problems can be reworked, can’t they? Yet at the same time, a week can go by where no math problems are worked at all due to life’s crazy interruptions and the went-missing-again math book.
We worry about everything and yet believe we have the power to protect, educate, and control outcomes bar none.
We’re a contradictory movement. Our core membership wants to roll back the clock to an earlier time when family values were “conventional” and unambiguous (at least in perception) yet we are strongly anti-convention in today’s world. Homeschooling is the bold hippie choice for education!
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a bridal shower for the future daughter-in-law of one of my good friends. This shower was filled with homeschooling mothers, many of whom hadn’t been together in years. As we looked at each other and knew bits and pieces of our children’s stories, emerging adulthood didn’t look as pristine as we’d imagined when our kids were little.
This bride, for instance, was “knocked up.” Not the game plan of most homeschool families. Yet what struck me about the extraordinary event was the cheerful goodwill in that room—the earnest desire to celebrate this marriage, this baby, this family in the making. In fact, she’s not “knocked up” but pregnant with a baby by a man she loves. Where’s the tragedy again? What’s the disaster?
As a forty-something adult at the time, I realized (as I thought of all the various families represented in that room) that I had sunk to the lowest level of ambition for each of our children: I hoped that they’d all simply be happy.
The surprise of shot-gun weddings, depression, secret lives of sex or smoking, loss of ambition, failing in college or getting kicked out, dabbling in drugs, questioning parental values, losing faith, lost scholarships, changing majors, and even the endless treadmill of “proving oneself” with good grades and high achievement… this is young adult life in all its messy fullness.
What I loved that day when we gathered to celebrate a young woman’s pregnancy was the calm care that inhabited all the conversations I witnessed. Maternal anxiety to “have it together” or to “be a testimony” had been replaced by genuine affection and hope that all would be well, and a love for one another born out of shared understanding—life is what happens while you make other plans.
To have friends to turn to when things don’t go as planned is what constitutes a rich life. That morning, I felt wealthy. Today, I know I am.
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