I’m transitioning to a different phase of parenting as our nest grows closer to being empty. Now, I see the lessons I never knew I was teaching coming to fruition. The character lessons of the ones we teach by example, without realizing that’s what we’re doing.
Now I see the best lessons we taught were during the toughest times our family faced. As a mother who was homeschooling, I was concerned during crises how I would teach my kids their school work and struggled to find ways to make it happen. The schoolwork did happen. But now, I see the real life lessons that happened by doing are what really counted.
When Nick was 3 and in speech therapy 4 mornings a week, Elizabeth and I sat in waiting rooms waiting for him, and we made that our special reading time when she read to me each day. For variety, we played with a reading music board where she played with magnets and learned to read her music notes.
When Nick was 5 and Elizabeth was 7, 2 weeks into our school year, our home and business burned. By some miracle, their school books were saved. We lived in an apartment while our home was rebuilt. Maybe the first lesson we taught was the morning after the fire, when we knelt in prayer in church, with all of us wearing borrowed clothes and none of us knowing where we would live or how our family would survive or what would happen to our 1-year-old business.
During the rebuild, the kids’ school work was scaled back to basics – reading, math, and writing. Friends took them in and taught them the first two weeks of pack out and demolition. My heart broke as our kids lost their every toy and learning game I had so painstakingly purchased and organized.
Their school days began at 6:30 a.m. so I could work with them and then work with the contractors on the construction site. They played in the back yard each day while I supervised the rebuild. I remember working on a bedroom and telling Nick to read books aloud to me while I worked – both to keep him out of trouble and help him build his new reading skills. In the car each day, from our apartment to our home, I had the kids do mental math.
I pondered over putting them into traditional school because our schedule was so tough. A schoolteacher friend of mine reassured me, telling me that when kids go through such a tremendous loss, wherever they go to school, teachers try to just get them basics because their hearts and heads are completely filled with survival first and learning second.
At the same time I worked with that, the kids saw Richard, who converted our bedroom in the 2 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment insurance rented for us into a temporary office where he worked and we slept.
We continued violin lessons during the build as well. One week, as I drove the kids to their group lesson time, I hit a 12-point buck who rolled off my car and ran into the woods. I didn’t want to miss the violin time we had already paid for, so we continued to the lessons, with deer fur and blood on the front of my car.
To help with purchasing their books for future years, we took on selling historic fiction at homeschool conventions. The kids helped us set up, sell, tear down, and inventory books. They both learned at an early age to calculate sales tax and make change. Our sales gave us many adventures. One of my most memorable was waiting in line to unload our books at a large convention center. As our car was stopped, we decided to try unloading our cart on the sidewalk. The kids helped me push the cart, with all our books into the center, while Richard waited for a place to park. Of course that was a 1-block adventure uphill. We got checked in and completely set up by the time Richard reached us.
Now, my kids are at an age where they increasingly make their own decisions. The flip side of that is I see them encounter their own set backs. It’s ten times harder to see my kids face a big blow and loss than it was to go through it ourselves. I hope their lives involve as few tough challenges as possible. I just want them to dance their way on a yellow brick road to happiness with sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.
But that’s not how life works.
When we searched for scholarships for my daughter, at one scholarship contest she faced some terrific setbacks. But she didn’t quit and kept going. The person awarding scholarships saw how hard she fought to keep going, and I wonder if that’s one of the reasons she won it.
Now, I see my son tackle challenges. He’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. If a glass has half an inch of water in it, he’ll say “It has just enough.” And with him, he’s right. He will take whatever hand he’s dealt, make the best of it, and good things come of it.
During those tough times, as I struggled for them to get the basics, they got them. I now see that the living, and the struggling, are the real lessons they learned while I fretted whether or not they were learning anything else.
When I see that, I think of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
If you can keep going when parenting your kids through the toughest struggles, you’ll have taught them what they most need to handle life.