The Year My Son Became a Man, Part 2

In my previous post, I shared how we have begun to approach our kids’ middle school years by asking the question: How might we carve out time to invest intentionally and sacrificially in our children’s lives during this particularly transformative season?

The first piece of this puzzle for us was the choice to “homeschool” our son (and, Lord willing, each of our kids) for one year during middle school. The choice of middle school seemed simple. It is the height of puberty. It is the most socially awkward and intense season in almost every young person’s life. And it is a season of both great change and great opportunity. Also, when it’s all said and done, I’m not sure I know anyone who looks back and wishes they’d had more time in middle school. We figured we’d give our son a chance to transition into the school with his friends (in 6th grade), take him out for a year (in 7th grade) and then allow him to prepare for high school back in a school setting (in 8th grade).

“Homeschool” as Opposed to Homeschool

While we do not feel called, as a family, to homeschool all four of our children, the idea of “homeschooling” them one at a time, at some point during the middle school years was compelling to us. I put “homeschool” in quotes, however, because we know many families who truly homeschool their children and, I have to confess, that is not what we did. In fact, we utilized a secular online curriculum (offered through our school district) to provide the bulk of our son’s basic education (math, science, history, language arts, etc.). This allowed him to transition easily out of the middle school after 6th grade and back into the middle school at the beginning of 8th grade.

More significantly, however, it freed Lara and I up to invest in him in ways that we were particularly passionate about, without being bogged down with trying to be his teacher for every single subject. And, while I wouldn’t want my child’s entire education to simply consist of staring at a screen and interacting with remote teachers, the cost of doing so for just one year was minimal. Now, while you’re probably thinking something like, “it sure would be nice to have the time to do that!” let me shine some light on how we made this possible.

Homeschooling your child for a year might simply not be an option for you, but I do think that doing it the way we did is probably an option for a lot of people who would, at first, assume it to be impossible. While Lara and I definitely have some unique flexibility, I still worked 50-60 hours a week and Lara still worked regularly as a substitute at the elementary school and ran the church’s children’s ministry volunteer scheduling, all while we “homeschooled” Harper. The truth is, he did the bulk of his schoolwork on his own, but the flexibility he had allowed Lara and I to each carve out one of our days off (really, about 4-6 hours) each week to spend one-on-one with him. This is time he simply didn’t have in his normal weekly schedules otherwise.

While not everyone would be able to make something like this work, I think there are probably sacrifices that could be made that would put a year like this within reach for more families than you would normally think. However, if even considering something like that would be unimaginable in your current situation, feel free to skip the rest of this post. But, either way, be sure to check out the next one, which will be applicable even if homeschooling isn’t an option.

Why a Year of “Homeschool”?

There were a few specific benefits that, to us, made the sacrifice of a “homeschool” year worth the cost. First, was the benefit of intentional time. Each getting to spend a day together with our son was a huge benefit for both Lara and I, and probably the first thing that sold us on this idea. I can’t imagine another year in his life when we will spend that much time together. The opportunity was literally priceless. The conversations we had ranged from the silly to the deeply theological, but sitting down with a specific agenda to dig into Scripture together or to tackle a project together not only helped him grow, but helped both Lara and me to own the responsibility of teaching him what it means to be a follower of Christ as an adult.

Just as impactful, however, was the amount of unintentional time we spent together. Harper got to witness, firsthand, our daily work ethics and had a front row seat to the seemingly endless responsibilities that come, one after another, as an adult. If our kids learn more from watching us than from us teaching them, the “watch and learn” time this year provided was as valuable as anything else we did. In addition, we had the opportunity to grab lunch together when an appointment of mine canceled, or spend the afternoon exploring different topics with mom when an activity didn’t take as long as she had planned. In the end, the unintentional time proved to be at least as valuable as the intentional time, something that (I must admit) I didn’t see coming.

A third huge benefit for us was the flexibility this year provided for Harper to join me for some of my ministry-related travel. The way everything fell, this ended up being an even bigger part of the year than we had anticipated. He joined me when I spent a week teaching at a couple pastors conferences in Uganda, and he also joined a short-term team I led to participate in rural outreach with one of our longtime missionary partners in Indonesia. I can’t even begin to summarize the blessing (and challenge) these times were, but I will mention (at least on the logistical side) this was something we had to seek out some sponsorship for, as it’s not something we as a family could naturally afford. But after explaining our desires, there were a few people who loved Harper and wanted to support him having this kind of opportunity. Again, this isn’t something everyone could do, but it was definitely worth the work and effort to make happen.

Finally, and probably most significantly, this year together provided us the opportunity to deal with problems that arose more directly and comprehensively than we ever had before. Admittedly, some of these problems were the failures of Lara and I that popped up along the way. Unfortunately for Harper he is being discipled by flawed and still-being-transformed parents. But there were a few serious character issues of Harper’s that arose as well. I’ll refrain from any specifics for his sake, but as we journeyed through the mess of his sin and temptation together all I could think was, “I’m so glad this is happening!” Every one of our kids is fallen and is going to have their own unique weaknesses, struggles, and temptations. But the privilege of being there to walk through them, and the opportunity to take the time to dig deeper than the normal pace of life allows was incredible. These parts of the year definitely weren’t “fun” but they gave us a foundation and a vocabulary that now, even though he’s back in school, makes our journey together more natural and more familiar.

These are just some of the reasons I think an experiment like a whole year off from “normal” school might be worth considering. In fact, even if you homeschool already, I bet there’s a way you could change things up just for one year to create a different environment that might allow you some of these same benefits. But, as I’ve said, this isn’t the type of thing that would work well for every family (or even most families?), and it’s not the type of thing that would work well for every kid. However, you don’t have to take your child out of school for an entire year to spend a year investing in a focused season of discipleship that corresponds with them becoming a young adult. In the next post we’ll look at the outline for our year of discipleship, which could be applied however you choose to school your child.
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