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For Them or With Them? A Mother’s Dilemma

By Jeannette Webb
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #97, 2011.

Should we do things for our children or alongside them?
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Jeannette Webb

by Jeannette Webb

For Them or With Them

In the fall of 1966, a somewhat frazzled kindergarten teacher met my young mother at the door with this announcement. “Mrs. Jones, your daughter was born to lead, but she could go just as far wrong as right. She’ll either be the leader of the Hell’s Angels or the first woman president of the United States!”

True to that early prophecy, I was instantly the leader in any group. In high school I was president of most organizations and I left college with a six-page résumé. I entered the professional world ready to conquer it. I was extremely efficient and people did not get in the way of my plans.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rest of my life. Twenty years after that dire prediction, I gave birth to my first child. A few years later, when I met his exhausted kindergarten teacher at the door, I could tell that we needed to make some changes or he might also be headed to join a destructive motorcycle gang.

The story of the radical change from feminist career woman to Christian homeschool mom is too long to repeat here, but suffice to say that after that life-changing shift, I suddenly found myself at yet another crossroads. I had this gift of leadership, multiple college degrees, all kinds of skills that organizations needed and wanted. And then there were my two small children with gifts as of yet undiscovered. Would I continue to stroke my own ego or would I step away so I could quietly nurture their possibilities?

Tough Choices

It is an agonizing choice made not once, but daily. To be honest, it is made multiple times every day. While it is true that many choices may not seem to be either/or, the reality of only 24 hours in a day and competing demands often mandates that they are. We competent homeschool moms often fool ourselves into thinking that we can have our cake and eat it too. After all, we have the freedom and flexibility of being at home! However, if we are honest, we often choose to do those things that garner appreciation from the masses or make us feel fulfilled. It is so easy to ignore the subtle needs of our family that will not bring us any thanks and can often bring resistance.

It is not my intent to be harsh, but my heart weeps when homeschool children get lost in the shuffle. Time and again I’ve witnessed the phenomenon of talented and dynamic moms who raise lackluster kids. It is time this issue comes out of hiding.

I think we tend to justify our time-use choices because, as homeschool moms, we have made tremendous sacrifices already. We have often left a fulfilling job. We’ve given up the comfort of a second salary. We have chosen to live counter-culture lives that are often unpopular with friends and family. And we’ve signed up for an incredible amount of work in educating our children. So how much more can we give up?

Before we move further, I need to make something crystal clear. I’m not talking about Mom being a doormat and waiting on her children hand and foot. I’m not talking about suppressing her every desire so her children can have their way. I’m talking about choosing the hard road: confronting our children’s shortcomings, training their intellect, and teaching them the vast array of skills needed, layer by layer, day by day, year by year. It takes an incredible amount of time, patience, love, and sheer tenacity. It is not being weak, but rather using our strength to infuse the lives of our children and teach them to be strong. It is choosing to see them honestly and committing ourselves to do something with that knowledge.

Seeing with Honest Eyes

The ability to see with honest eyes is a rare thing in our frenzied world. It is not that we lack the wisdom to see candidly, but that many of us have chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to live a lifestyle that does not encourage it. We can suffer from preoccupation or an actual lack of time.

You may be moving too fast to honestly evaluate your children. If your days are a constant rush from activity to activity (even if they are wonderful activities, classes, or opportunities), if there is not time to truly connect with your child, you will miss who they are at their core and who they could become with your guidance.

I began to notice when my children were very small that, though we enjoyed special times I planned, more often than not it was mundane moments at home during the routine of our lives when little hints of their thought life would be dropped into my lap. As they got older, they would turn, at unexpected times, eyes full of discovery or questions and share a sudden revelation. I soon learned that I had to stay in the moment with them and not escape into my thought-life, which is so easy for me.

You see, even for those of us at home full time, preoccupation with our own activities such as planning homeschool group meetings or Bible study or political events or any number of things can keep us from being fully present.

Don’t kid yourself! You can be physically with your children all day every day and be too distracted to see truth when it floats by in front of you.

Our Children are Our Ministry

Always keep in mind that God designed each child as a one-of-a-kind miracle! They are a gift, put into your family for a specific reason for a very limited time. You have a unique mission field. You alone have been given the responsibility to train up your child in the way he should go. This responsibility wasn’t given to the pastor, youth minister, sports coach, or co-op teacher. It was given to you because the Lord knew from the beginning of time that you were the most qualified person to handle the assignment.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that, for this season of your life, this is your primary ministry. I am deeply grieved for the Christian moms (and dads) whose lives are dominated by a lay ministry at church or a homeschool ministry when their most important work is right there under their noses at home.

While in the middle of child rearing, it can seem that it will last for the rest of your life. Consequently you may feel you must do all these other things if you are ever going to have the chance. The truth is that the opportunity to parent goes by in a heartbeat.

The discipleship lifestyle is a difficult one. It is so much less efficient than doing it ourselves. It is often lonely. There are no awards. It routinely calls for our last ounce of strength. It often moves us into the realm of the invisible. After years of being in the limelight, I suddenly found that I was just Austin or Natalie’s mom. The only thing I can compare it to is the drink offering being poured out daily on the altar as a living sacrifice. The flames are hot, but God promises that it is a pleasing aroma to Him.

Questions to Ask Yourself

There is one question that helped me find my way in almost any situation:

“Am I doing this FOR my children or WITH my children?”

Doing things for our children often involves a great deal of time expenditure on their behalf, but without them by our sides learning from us. They benefit from our energies the same as all the other kids affected by what we did, as a part of a group who takes what is handed to them. Doing things with our children requires a great deal more of us: time, patience, and ingenuity, swallowing pride, giving up recognition. Yet, our children are involved in the creative act with us. They are fellow collaborators and have ownership in the outcome. It is an entirely different experience!

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you contemplate a mother’s dilemma:

  • Is “me” time more important than “us” time?
  • Do I read that great book to myself or read out loud to my child?
  • Do I run the homeschool group (substitute the name of any organization) or teach my kid how to orchestrate a huge event?
  • Do I teach the class or do I stay flexible and move as rapidly or as slowly as the child God placed in my care?
  • Will I take the time to listen, often in the wee hours of the morning, to my child’s innermost thoughts?
  • Can I lay down my pride (in my yard being unmowed or my house being less than perfect or giving up the prestigious assignment) and choose to invest that time in my child?
  • Am I willing to stop in the middle of a busy day and answer the phone to deal with my college student’s struggles?
  • Am I willing to lay down my life for those that God has placed in my care?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but there are eternal ones.
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