Some thoughts from a recently retired homeschool mom

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Ending in a pandemic

   

The end of our family’s homeschool journey coincided with the start of the pandemic. The youngest finishing high school, 2 kids starting post-secondary, my responsibilities to our children’s education, which included preparing transcripts, helping with school applications, etc. all ended in the pandemic. Life changed for me with the laying down of that responsibility, but life was radically different because of the pandemic. And so I didn’t know what it was like to be a retired homeschooler, in the way I had been hoping to experience.

For a solid year, March 2020 to Spring 2021, although I had officially ended homeschooling and my kids were in post-secondary, the lockdown measures in the city of Montreal severely limited our social lives. So while theoretically the kids were no longer my “responsibility”, I spent a lot of time with them and observed and felt their mental and emotional suffering through the pandemic restrictions. It was a hard year. And so the lightening of my parenting load with retiring from homeschooling was less pronounced.

   

Since the end of spring, beginning of the summer of 2021, as lockdown measures have lifted in Montreal, and vaccinations have enabled our lives to return to an almost normal level of social engagement, I feel less of a burden for my kids’ mental wellbeing. They are out and about, as they should be in this life stage. And because we’re not all stuck at home together, all the time, I don’t have to “feel” all the things they’re going through, there’s a bit of distance. A much needed and blessed distance. A distance that many families achieve when kids leave home to go to school, which is not our reality.

Quite frankly, after more than two decades at this attachment mothering gig I’m ready for some distance. And so are my kids! We started to get that much-needed distance from each other this summer as their social engagements and relationships expanded, post-lockdown.

And so the reality of being done the homeschooling gig, letting go of my kids’ non-material stuff (all their material belongings are still here) has settled into my life.

   

And can I just say, I am digging this. I’m quite happy to no longer be waking up at 4 am, being hit in that most vulnerable hour with all my worry, self-doubt, and feelings of failure with regards to child-raising and homeschooling. (Feelings, I should add, that my husband never experiences because self-doubt is my kryptonite, not his.)

It’s done. The child-raising and homeschooling. And the kids are ok. We are so proud of the effort they are putting into their lives; into their education, their work, their health, their relationships. They are on the bumpy road of young adulthood. And we’re here to support them but it’s not our responsibility.

   
drinking wine from a fruit cup, as one does when backcountry camping

Making your way into the world as a young adult is hard enough at the best of times. No one signed up for launching during a pandemic and yet that’s what we got.

Last spring I was attending a Zoom spiritual gathering (who knew this would become a thing?), and we were asked “where are you finding meaning right now?” I knew immediately where my meaning was found, taking care of my people, specifically my kids, supporting them however we could during the upheaval of the pandemic. It’s definitely a “we” effort around here as my husband, though he doesn’t worry, is as committed to our kids as I am.

They needed our support. They have less life experience, wisdom, and reserves (emotional, financial, mental, etc) to draw on and we were/are committed to being a solid foundation for them as they make their way into the world.

   

As I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, caring for my people is a foundational piece of my life purpose. It motivates my decision making for the present and looking ahead to the future.

Even so, I am in the beginnings of the life stage where the load of responsibility for my children has significantly lightened. And I feel it. (It’s most likely that the next load of familial responsibility will be in caring for my parents, which is a ways off but we have started the wheels in motion for that stage. A process I hope to share more about this fall.)

I’m starting to feel a real sense of freedom and rest. And I’m loving it.

I don’t remember the last time I felt this stress-free, day after day, week after week. Something shifted at the end of July, when I finished my summer intensive (which was intensive in all the ways, you can read my final assignment for that class here).

For our family, who are fully vaxxed and live in a relatively high compliance society re: pandemic protocols, the worst of the pandemic had lifted by summer. And when my class ended late July, my own energies shifted and I gave myself hearty permission, a “hell yeah”, to the sense of freedom I was starting to experience.

Before I expound more on this new sense of freedom in life, let's talk about the big P.

   

Let's talk about productivity

For many years, I’ve pushed against a productivity-driven mindset, it doesn’t feel human-supporting to me. This “push against” is partly a spiritual and mental antidote to dominant traits within myself (supported by our culture) that want to push me to productivity as proof of worth, and productivity as a means of trying to (understandably) control our lives.

I think our society, and certain personalities have a drive to productivity as a way of avoiding spiritual and psychological growth. Having recognized this tendency in the culture and in myself I have pushed against this mindset for years, and held the line of my own productivity as a means of resistance and revolt.

I recognize there are realities of living in a productivity-orientated society that you can’t entirely escape, especially if you are economically disadvantaged. And when other people depend on you for their well-being, like your family, you have a responsibility to them to do what it takes. Whether that’s being productive in the home, productive at work, whatever. There are both societal expectations as well as fundamentally human needs to secure a roof over your head and put food on the table.

   

Depending on personality, culture, privilege, overarching societal values (thinking here of both Puritan and neoliberal capitalist work ethics as examples), people have varying degrees of a productivity mindset. By virtue of personality, upbringing, and wider culture, I’m primed for productivity. Therefore, I resist.

Having said all this, it’s harder to resist while raising children. I tried. I tried to the extent of homeschooling my children, and completely removing them and our family from the factory line, production-model of education. (And if you’ve been here for awhile you know we were relaxed homeschoolers, following our interests.) But you still have to provide a home and a livelihood. You have to put food on the table - earning the money to pay for it, sourcing it, cooking it. You have to provide a childhood that will allow your children to integrate and belong to society (even if you dissent on many levels). So you produce.

And truly, production it not the problem, productivity even is not the problem, de-humanizing forms of production and productivity are the problems. The worship of these things is the problem. The lack of rest is the problem.

It’s complicated, as all thing are. But my desire is to remove myself, as much as possible, from unhealthy loops and expectations around productivity and worth; to question and critique productivity as an aim in our lives and society.

   

And now that my kids are grown, I have more freedom to do so. They can make their own choices about the level to which they will participate in the system (in multiple regards) and I can do likewise without undue concern for my responsibilities in raising them. Because those years are done. Baby, they are done!

What does this mean practically in my life, in this season?

(Ie: What's it like to be a retired homeschooler?)

First, let’s state upfront my privilege. My husband and I are partners and we work together to meet our individual and familial responsibilities and goals. This translates into a certain level of financial security that I don’t personally have to earn. That’s the reality of our partnership. It’s a privilege, and it was also a choice in looking for a particular partner, someone who wanted to provide this for his family.

Because of this privilege and partnership, and my continued emotional and relational labour within our family, I have chosen to work part-time. In addition to my work, which is less than 20 hours a week, I go to school, also part-time. I do my assignments and readings in the mornings before I start work, in the early evenings and on weekends. I help the kids as needed with stuff. (I’m the go-to parent for daytime assistance that requires a time commitment.)

   

I don’t cook family meals, except for weekend gatherings which I schedule as often as possible now that we are allowed to gather. Once a month I do a big grocery shopping trip and the rest is done by the family (on a weekly rotation) at the grocery stores in our neighborhood, all on foot. Also once a month I take a day to pay the bills and balance the accounts and manage our finances for the short and long term. I manage our living space but with the cleaning outsourced to the kids, and with a small space, home management is minimal.

I plan (pay for) and go on adventures as often as possible. I make online journals for some of these adventures. I meet up with friends regularly (online or in-person). I go to online meetings of organizations I’m interested in, or belong to. I hang out with my husband on weekend afternoons (the day I’m not studying). We go for long walks and out for supper. In the spring and summer I garden for the beauty of it, subject to my own whims and desires.

I read the newspaper. Some mornings, like the days I’m writing this, I write with the goal of publishing to my blog. Sometimes I just write for Instagram instead. I watch YouTube lifestyle vlogs of millennial homesteader and cottage folks, with a heavy Scandinavian influence. I've started playing around with making more videos myself. I regularly take mid-afternoon naps. Sometimes I go for weekday walks or bide rides around the neighborhood. I don’t commute anywhere. (Thank you Jesus!)

   

I don’t volunteer (right now). Except for school, I don’t read things because people say I should or because it will make me look smart. I go to bed later than earlier, after evening studies or classes. And I watch TV almost every night, usually after 9pm, with my kids or my husband. Maybe I’ll read a bit before failing asleep, always fiction or memoir. I rarely start my day before 8 am. (I never was an early bird, but now I’m really not an early bird.)

Generally, there are no tasks or responsibilities in my life that require a rush. This is not a season of urgency. There are deadlines but there is time to do the work to meet them. And although I am committed to learning and stretching myself intellectually I feel free from a lot of the striving of my twenties and thirties.

I am at ease right now in a way I haven’t felt for many years. There was a general mental and relational ease when the kids were little and life felt simpler, but it was also more physically intense. I was ambitious about being a very good homemaker, living green, and all that, and that carried a mental load. Then during the kids’ teen years the emotional and mental burden of homeschooling (and the self-doubt and worry) ratcheted up, finances were tight, and there was a lot to do in terms of finishing homeschooling and preparing the kids for post-secondary. And there was more driving than I’d ever done in my home-based, one-car family, adult life.

   

And now I’m here. Kids are on their individual paths to independence. I’m employed (earning, saving, & spending), and going to school studying things that fascinate me. I live in a city I love. I have my partner of 25 years by my side. We have dreams, we’re making plans, and we have more resources to make those things possible.

I’m ready for this stage and right now, I’m loving it. I don’t know how long this ease will last. As a person who anticipates the worst, I wonder when the winds will change. When stress, anxiety, the unknown, feelings of loss and overwhelm will roar back into my life. Will it be a job loss? A crisis for one of the kids? A diagnosis?

We pad the nest, we cushion, we plan, but like the pandemic has reminded us, on a lot of levels, we have no control.

   

Seasons of trial come and go. So do seasons of rest and renewal. Right now I’m accepting and enjoying this gift and the fruits of my labor. It would be foolish to do otherwise.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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