Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Hardest Thing





If nothing else on this blog, I have tried my best to be genuine. It's easy to share the good times, the successes, the advice, and of course, my *good* opinion. It is infinitely harder to share the mistakes, the trials, and yes, even the failures. 

It is vulnerable in the particular, squirmy way that few of us enjoy suffering in real life, let alone in the virtual world. But, in this world where, increasingly, the life of a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother seems to be dwindling into the realm of mystery, I feel a sort of responsibility to be honest in this place. So, I have tried to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my journey, lest I encourage (or discourage) anyone else from walking a similar one with confidence due to sugar-coating on my part about what this crazy roller-coaster looks like (at least in my neck of the woods.)

And the fact is, lately, I've been stumbling.

Suffice it to say I've been through a rough a season where I came to question in my heart what my head has known for years: That my worth lies in being a daughter of God and in following His will for my life. And that perfect will, as far as I've been able to discern over the past decade, has been to lay aside many of my former ambitions, lay them at His feet, and become a full-time wife, mother, and home educator.

Sometimes, it's hard not to listen to the wooing world. To not say, "I can do that and..." To not tell myself I can have it all when, time and again, experience has shown me that cutting corners is not in God's plan for this gift of family He has blessed me with.

For this season, I am being called to focus. Inward, homeward. To quiet my lively soul and learn the peace of a submissive spirit. (If you know me, you're probably laughing at that statement right now. Submission is not my strong suit.)  But here's the thing, It's HARD.

Let me repeat that. 

Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom is THE HARDEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE, and if I'm truly honest, there have been days and weeks and months where I have wanted nothing more than to quit. To throw in the towel and go back to life as a work-away artist. To get to eat at least one meal a day where no one throws their food on the floor or rubs peanut butter in their hair or interrupts me for yet another glass of milk just as I'm sitting down again. To find praise and accolades and daily adult conversation. To get a paycheck and to remember what it felt like when the world told me I was "succeeding."

But little by little, gently but firmly, God has shown me that quitting is not the way for me to find peace. Or contentment. Or joy. Because this is where I have been called. Yes, it is hard. Anything truly worth having is. But by sticking with it, I am being formed more and more into the woman I want to be. In many ways, by sticking it out in this topsy-turvy, beautiful, challenging vocation, I am being refined into the woman I once thought I was.

By parenting in this intentional, God-guided manner, I have been challenged to learn lessons I desperately needed but never would have sought. Lessons I tried to ditch at every obstacle. But in finally submitting to be taught, I am slowly becoming better. It is not the vocation for every woman, but it is mine. And the more I yield to it, the more I become.

By surrendering to the challenges of being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother, I am being shaped into the woman I once thought I was.

I always thought of myself as hard-working, positive, gentle, compassionate, kind, and optimistic. It didn't take many weeks of parenting to teach me the opposite: That I am in fact selfish, self-centered, covetous, vain, lazy, and impatient. 

I say these things not to demean myself or to have a pity party but to explain that parenting intentionally is hard. It's shown me--and I don't think I'm alone here--that I was never especially virtuous. I was simply comfortable. And in control of my life. Children forced me to realize the truth: that I was never in control. And little by little, God has been wresting that wheel out of my clutched fists.




You may notice that the photos on this page are all of my oldest daughter, Sophia. Maybe it's common, I don't know, but it's certainly the case with me that many of my toughest parenting decisions seem to revolve around my oldest child. She has taught me more than I will likely ever teach her. Thankfully. I am always in need of instruction.

Most recently, I made the difficult decision of putting her into traditional school. A decision that, I feel now, was probably a mistake. Now, let me be clear. I do not think that traditional school is, in itself, a mistake. It's not. I can say firsthand that, the past month or so, it has felt like a lifesaver to this drowning mama. But, there are good reasons why my husband and I chose homeschooling as the best option for our family. And, if I'm honest, I wasn't using our local school as a lifesaver. I was using it as a crutch. To get out of learning another hard lesson. That, sometimes, I need to be humbled and weakened so that my God can be strong.

What I saw as an unending struggle to homeschool was really more about my rebellious attitude and my desire to have some more "me" time. Sure, my attitude was compounded by the fact my husband (who I rely on for much of my support, as both our families live very far away) was working absurdly long hours, seven days a week for much of 2013. Yes, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, and the morning sickness was the worst and lasted the longest of any of my previous pregnancies. But, really, those are just extenuating circumstances to a deeper problem: Although I have known for years in my head that what I do at home is of infinite worth, I wasn't feeling it this fall. Somehow, that knowledge sidestepped my heart, and I was struggling. The more I ran away from it, the harder it was to pray, and the less I prayed, the harder it became to do anything else until, quite frankly, I couldn't do anything else.

And so, my little girl went off to school.

As I said in a previous post, it's had it's good sides. I am nothing but grateful to the wonderful teachers she's been blessed with, even if there are things about the curriculum or the school as a whole that I'm not wild about. But, it was never the right option for our family. Deep down, I knew that. But I got scared.

Just like every mother I've ever known, I have always wanted to give my children the best. But this fall, I wasn't feeling like the best. I felt pretty crappy, actually. I was worried that I wasn't enough--and would never be enough--to give my children a good life. To help them learn well. I worried that I was hindering their progress and holding them back. 

Many people in my life, and the world in general seemed to be patiently condescending to me (at least that's how I perceived it). "You know," they said, "you're making this harder than it has to be. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Just put the kids in school." 

Again, I want to stress that I truly believe there is a time and place and circumstances where an education outside the home is necessary or even preferable to homeschooling. But it was this overwhelming pressure I felt to conform--the same pressure I often feel as a stay-at-home mother in this work-away world--this seething, whispering implication that I was less because I wasn't "doing it all and..."--that drove me to make the decision I did.

And I'm sorry that I gave up so soon. Because, in the broad scheme of things, it really didn't take that long for me to bounce back. A month and a half. The forever I'd feared turned out to be fairly short-lived.

Now, I find myself successfully homeschooling my 4-year-old son, as well as heavily supplementing Sophia's education daily with history, language arts, and science. In fact, the only subjects I've left up to her school are reading (which she has always avidly seen to on her own both in and out of school), handwriting and math. In short, the subjects where I largely can just hand her a workbook while I take care of the baby or help James with his reading.

So, I asked myself, why not bring her home?

It's a question my husband and I want to consider carefully before making *another* rash decision. But it's a decision that holds too much weight for us to simply sit back and say, "Well, it would be kind of awkward. What would the neighbors think? Better leave her in until June."

This post is getting long, and I know I can never explain in one blog post all the thoughts and emotions that have run through me over this topic. Perhaps I'll partition them out and share them in time. But I want to conclude by saying: 

If you, dear reader, are a stay-at-home mother or a homeschooling mother, and you worry that this path is too hard, that there is no bend in the road and no light at the end of the tunnel, I want to tell you that I know how you feel. I can't do much to help pull you up except to say that I've been there, and I know that it's better to push through than to quit. Because no matter what the world or your friends or your parents or in-laws tell you, what you are doing matters. Infinitely. Immeasurably. No one can take your place in your children's lives. No one can give them what you can. 

You are enough.

Pray for me. I'll pray for you. And together, we'll run this roller-coaster race.

7 comments:

  1. Bethany, this post is beautiful in its raw honesty.

    I often find myself sliding into self doubt now. I pray for myself and for any other mother who finds herself where I am some days and weeks. I appreciate your prayers.

    As a mother of five ages 5,3,2 and 3 month twins, I have a lot on my plate. I desperately want to help my children grow to be faithful, well educated, independent adults, but it takes so much of my time. I'm weak, and I wish I had more time to...well, waste, really. It is hard to let go of selfishness and truly make oneself a servant to your family.

    I pray you and Brian make the best decision regarding Sophia's schooling. Don't worry about what other people will think if you choose to take her home now. Do what is best for you and her.

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  2. Bethany,

    I greatly appreciated what you wrote. I too have struggled in the past with my decision to devote my life to hearth and home, giving my very best to my family. Not because I was not convinced of the intrinsic and (as you said) immeasurable worth of being a wife, homemaker, and mother, but because I feared the negative opinions of those around me.

    But in the end, only one Person's judgment will matter. I want what I do to have eternal significance; I want what I build to last longer than this life and longer than this world. When everything I have done in my life is tested, I want it to stand firmly on the foundation of Christ, beautiful and imperishable. (1 Corinthians 3:11-13, 4:5)

    I can think of nothing I could do that has greater eternal significance than treasuring Christ above all and striving to live a life that is honoring to Him and obedient to His commands by loving the husband He has blessed me with (and any children He gives), keeping and guiding our home, aiding and assisting my husband in all he is called to do, and seeking to spread the gospel as I show love and charity to others.

    There is such peace in knowing I am living a life that matters - not by our culture's standards, but by God's standards. I agree, it can be hard! But the Lord is gracious to enable us to do what pleases Him. Thank you for your prayers. You will be in mine, and I pray that your life as a wife, mother, homemaker, educator, and servant of God continues to grow ever sweeter and satisfying.

    ~Jessi

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  3. Dear Bethany, I commented on your homeschool post, saying that I was somewhat discouraged by the decision you made... And I was... Just because it has seemed as though so many people of our generation who start homeschooling, don't seem to carry it on... or unwilling or unable to figure out HOW to carry it on--often in the midst of hardship, morning sickness, several children, no help, limited finances etc... I totally understood your post and the many reasons why sending a child to school could be helpful... I have felt many many of those things myself at times... I too have been discouraged, and wanted to listen to those who said the same..."you don't HAVE to... Don't make it harder than it has to be" etc etc... And certainly, sharing my feeling of let down to hear another momma stop homeschooling wasn't to pile on the guilt--not at all... and I have pondered several times since posting, if my wording was too harsh, too judgemental etc... I was not intending to be so...And for that I apologize... May I share something with you that I have learned over the last year? God has really been opening my eyes about Him and His will... And I think I have finally come to the realization that God doesn't owe me a "fulfilling" existence--what He owes me is judgement. Also, being in the center of His will still doesn't guarantee me a "fulfilling" existence, because His purposes are different than mine. "Fulfilling" in our culture, so often, means easy, satisfying, complacent, free from struggle or strife or sacrifice. And God's purpose may include everyone of those hard things because His purpose are to make me like His Son, not to make me happy. And while I still fail so much, the blessings He has bestowed upon me and my family are a huge expression of His grace--as are the trials I face (no major ones, but tons of small irritating ones! LOL), in that those trials amount to nothing compared to the wrath He saved me from, that I deserve... Seeing this has shown me that the trialsome days at home with the children CAN be His will--His perfect will... hard as they are, rife with struggle, impatience etc... And I too have realized how much they expose my willfulness, my selfishness, my laziness, etc... And I too have to learn (over and over), that faithfulness to God for its own sake is something I loathed and that did not come naturally. I wanted return on my faithfulness--so often return I wasn't seeing, feeling, or benefitting from... I want to profit by my faithfulness... not out of true obedience and love of God, but out of an attitude of of getting what I felt to be my dues for being such a good girl...(talk about prostituting my faithfulness!--horrid!) God has humbled me as well, and continues to do so... Hard lessons. It's a struggle to learn them... I pray that the Lord would guide you and your husband make the next decision for your family... And as one other thought, raising your children to have a good life, doesn't mean expectations of suburbs, great salaries, or pensions... Hopefully it means heaven, and obedience... Even if that means serving in the ghettos of Chicago, in the slums of Calcutta, or the mundane sameness (at times!) of raising a family for His glory...

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  4. Thank you all for your encouragement and prayers.

    Anonymous - I appreciate your heartfelt apology, though it truly isn't necessary. At the time, I admit I was defensive about the term "discouraged" that you used--not because you shouldn't have used it but because I felt like no matter what I did, I was constantly letting someone down: My children if I didn't homeschool them or if I did, society, my family's expectations, my own aspirations, etc... I really appreciate you sharing your heart and your insights. I take it in the vein of "iron sharpening iron" and I thank you for having the courage to challenge me with grace and compassion.

    God bless,
    Bethany

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  5. I have followed your blog for years. Our oldest children are the same age, and I too decided earlier this schoolyear to put him in school. If I'm honest, it's because I was being selfish. I was putting my own desires - to write, to try to be "productive", etc. - first. I figured that he'd adjust. I have felt ill at ease, though, but waffled about whether he should go back or not... I even wrote a letter to his principal yesterday but was too chicken to send it. Will they think I'm a nut for pulling him out so soon? Should he just go until June? Your post has put me at peace. Tomorrow will be his last day. He's coming home. And I'll probably still get frustrated here and there, but that's OK. He is teaching me to be less selfish, to live more for others than for myself. I'll pray for your journey - and our collective sanity. ;) (And for baby #4, in both our cases!)

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    1. Anonymous - Thank you so much for sharing! I'm glad my post was able to give you peace. And, what a small world. It's always nice to hear from other mothers who are going through similar struggles. I'll pray for a smooth transition for your son--and for your new blessing! Congratulations!!

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  6. Hello Bethany. It has been a very long time since I popped in and read your blog. When I started to read your blog, you only had your sweet daughter. I am a stay at home Gramma that provided childcare for a very active grand daughter. She was 1 year old when I started babysitting and came out of what I call semiretirement with an empty nest. My daughter came home with her daughter after her husband abandoned them. Daughter went through an unwanted divorce. All that aside, lil Miss is now a first grader in a Christian school. I'm not sure if your daughter is in public or private school. I'll have to reread some of your post and see if you shared. I wish you the very best as a homeschooler as well as having a child in another schooling system.

    I cheer you on as a wife, stay at home momma and homeschooler! I noticed when I was a stay at home momma and now a stay at home MATURE WOMAN that our culture isn't very supportive of stay at homers with or without children.

    I have a great deal to say about Life in general and what I found to be true about the Public school systems. I believe that when children are introduced to ungodly ways, it becomes an unwanted battle in life that leaves a mark and can stay with them. Even with proper upbringing in the home, at public schools the young minds are being exposed to things that the parents don't know about when papers don't all come home for the parents to read.

    Now common core is there. That's a whole different ball game.

    Not sure if you spend time with other homeschoolers to where you could chat and the children play. Hope you do. Every momma gets tired. As children do as well.

    I'd like to encourage you to give yourself down time every day and allow yourself to be alright with not being perfect. Go for a drive or a walk with the children.

    I tried so hard to be on top of it all when my children were young. Time passes and playing on the floor with the kids will be something they remember along with your love.

    My children attended public schools and if I could do it over I would. It's a far cry from what it was like when I attended Public schools. A far cry. For a few years I was a Teacher's Aide. As a Teacher's Aide, I was shocked at the different philosophies the public school delivered.

    Will lift you up in prayer.
    d

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